Take heart, Team Romney. Your man is one of only two candidates that a majority of Republican voters view as an "acceptable" eventual party nominee. You might want to hold off on the high-fives, though; the other winner of the acceptability (read: electability) derby is a now-familiar foe:
Significantly more GOP partisans and leaners see Newt as a satisfactory choice, and Mitt's negatives remain higher. Still, aside from Gingrich, Romney wouldn't want to swap positions with anyone else. The rest of the field is under water. Click through for the full results; the ideological breakdown is fascinating. Newt's 'adequacy' lead expands among self-identified conservatives and Tea Party supporters -- although Romney remains right-side-up among both groups. Somewhat amazingly, self-described Tea Partiers only crowned three Republicans as worthy general election challengers: Newt, Mitt, and Michele Bachmann. Majorities of Tea Partiers gave everyone else -- Perry, Santorum, Cain, Paul, and Huntsman -- thumbs down. Romney only outpaces his competitors on the acceptability scale among two groups: Non-Tea Partiers, and 'moderate/liberal' Republicans. Anyone surprised? Among both of those groups, Newt came in a close second, followed by Ron Paul.
As I hinted above, I think the ambiguous 'acceptability' metric is really a proxy measure of perceived electability. Within a general election context, I would read the "is he or she acceptable?" question as, "would I vote for this person against Barack Obama?" In that case, I'd respond in the affirmative to virtually every single name on the list. But since six of eight candidates received more unacceptable marks than the inverse, I suspect most respondents approached this question as a referendum on whether the Republican Party could win with Candidate X at the top of the ticket. If that's the case, Gingrich is sitting pretty. He's leading in many state and national polls, and even those who aren't in his camp could at least live with him as the nominee. Romney, once again, seems to be a lot of voters' second choice -- and they've gotten hot and heavy with almost everyone else in the field to avoid settling. It's that lack of relatability and an inability to generate enthusiasm that has dogged the former Massachusetts Governor throughout this process, dating back to 2008. Is there a path to victory for The Man Who Can't Connect?
The former Massachusetts governor is rapidly becoming a one-man political experiment, testing the theory that empathy and the ability to connect with voters are prerequisites for a winning campaign. He has many attributes, but firing up a Republican crowd isn’t one of them...On Thursday night, 12 Republican voters sat down with pollster Peter Hart for a focus group, one of a series being conducted for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania during the election. When Romney advisers watch the video on C-SPAN, they should wince, though they no doubt have seen and heard the same thing in their own research for months.
Some of the participants offered positive appraisals of Romney as a man of good values and high morality. He was seen by a majority as fully experienced to be president — as was former House speaker Newt Gingrich. But the consistent theme that came through was that Romney was not one of them — not one of the 99 percent. Asked in a variety of ways to assess and analyze Romney’s character, the participants described him in terms that made him seem aloof, inauthentic and privileged. Hart asked them, if Romney were a member of your family, who would he be? One said a second cousin, which is to say someone not considered close. Another said distant “because he’s richer than the rest of us.” Another said the “dad who’s never at home.” Another said Romney wouldn’t have time for his extended family.
The Washington Post's in-house conservative blogger (and barely camouflaged Romney admirer), Jennifer Rubin, seems to recognize that Romney's public-relations trajectory needs to be altered if he really wants to win. Her advice is to highlight some of Romney's little-known life experiences to humanize a candidate many regard as almost creepily robotic. An example? These anecdotes, revealed in the latest edition of Parade:
Your eldest son, Tagg, has said that the 30-month mission you went on for your church in 1966 shaped who you are today.
I was sent to live in France among the lower middle class. Each month I received $100 or $110 from home, probably equal to $500 or $600 a month today. With it, I had to pay for everything—rent, food, transportation. The toilet was in the hall, shared by a few apartments, and the shower consisted of attaching a hose to the sink faucet, standing in a plastic tub, and holding the hose over your head.
Did it help you become self-sufficient?
Yes. I recognized my life was up to me, and what I became was a function not of what my father achieved or what my mother dreamt, but what I could accomplish on my own.
It was a good growing up experience?
It was a good growing up experience. I made friends and had social experiences with people who lived in the apartment building I lived in and recognized the extreme value of education, the amazing advantage of being born in America and a passion for the principles that make America the land of opportunity. I think most people going through college consider it just something that you do that’s kind of fun and entertaining and engaging, but the relevance to one’s life is not clear. If you go to a foreign place, particularly if you’re living with people of very humble financial circumstances and you see the impact of education and the power of freedom and opportunity that we enjoy in America, you become motivated. It concentrates the mind.
How did the 1968 car accident in France [in which a vehicle crossed into Romney’s lane, seriously injuring him and killing a passenger] change you?
It brought a seriousness to my life—a recalculation of what was important and a recognition of life’s fragility. Young people think bad things won’t happen; I recognized that bad things can happen to me and those I love.
These stories may not impact many votes, but they at least bring to light details of Mitt Romney's formative years that many Americans have never heard. Is this enough to swing skeptics? Probably not. But it's a start.
UPDATE - A trio of new polls -- two in Iowa, one in South Carolina -- solidifies what we've already gathered: Newt is the leader of the pack.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography
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