Mitt Romney has an Iowa problem

at 07:38 AM ET, 12/06/2011

Yes, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is running 15 points behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in a new Washington Post-ABC News survey of likely Iowa caucus-goers.


Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, accompanied by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks to a group of workers at Nationwide Insurance Company, Wednesday Nov. 23, 2011, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Steve Pope)
But it’s not where Romney stands today in the poll that should be so troubling for his campaign. It’s that the numbers reveal that Romney has a narrow path — at best — to victory in the Jan. 3 caucuses.

The depth of Romney’s Iowa problem is apparent when likely caucus-goers are asked a series of “attribute” questions about the Republican field — questions designed to probe voter sentiment on electability, empathy, experience and values.

On each of those questions, Gingrich holds a distinct edge over Romney.

Forty-three percent said Gingrich has the “best” experience to be president, while just 16 percent said the same of Romney. Twenty-five percent said the former House speaker “best reflects the core values of the Republican Party,” while 12 percent said the same of the former Massachusetts governor. Twenty-four percent said Gingrich was the candidate most likely to stand up for what be believes in, while just 10 percent said that of Romney.

Even on electability, which has long been a pillar of Romney’s appeal (‘You may not love me, but you like Barack Obama way less, and I give us the best chance of beating him,’ is the sentiment), Gingrich has an edge. Twenty-nine percent of likely caucus-goers said Gingrich “has the best chance to defeat Barack Obama,” while 24 percent said that Romney was the party’s strongest nominee.

On issues, the story is the same. Asked who they trust most to handle the economy, which has been Romney’s pet issue for years, Gingrich has an 11-point lead. The former speaker enjoys an even wider lead over Romney, interestingly enough, on immigration (plus-19) and a far more narrow edge on social issues (plus-2).

The avalanche of numbers all point to a stark reality for Romney: There’s no obvious path to victory in Iowa for the former Massachusetts governor.

An appeal to electability won’t likely work, nor will a singular focus on the economy. He won’t be able to get to Gingrich’s ideological right or cast himself as the person with the right resume to represent the party next fall.

Given that, Romney’s options are pretty limited.

On the passive side, he could wait and hope that Gingrich says or does something in the next four weeks that exposes him as the same old guy who has dramatically risen and fallen on the national stage over the past two decades.

On the active side, Romney — or a super PAC aligned with him — could begin (as in, today) a relentless campaign aimed at tearing Gingrich limb from limb (figuratively, of course) with a series of television ads, direct mail pieces and phone calls that paint the former House speaker as a flip-flopper with a questionable personal background.

How the Romney operation comes down on that question is tied up with how important they believe Iowa is to his electoral calculus. If Romney’s campaign believes the Hawkeye State isn’t all that critical to his hopes, it may well take the passive route — hoping Gingrich implodes but doing nothing to agitate for it.

If, on the other hand, Romney’s senior strategy team decides Iowa is a must-win (or a must-narrowly-lose) state for the former governor, expect there to be blood on the floor before all is said and done.

Gingrich leads big in S.C. too: Now it looks like Gingrich has a great shot to win two of the first three states on the map, with a new South Carolina poll showing him up 16 points on Romney.

The Winthrop University poll shows Gingrich at 38 percent and Romney at 22 percent, with no other candidate cracking double digits.

Gingrich’s team has redoubled its efforts in the Palmetto State in recent days, recognizing that New Hampshire is still Romney territory.

Given Romney’s strength in New Hampshire and Nevada, and the possibility that Gingrich could also win two of the four designated early states, Florida’s rogue primary on Jan. 31 is looking increasingly pivotal as the rubber match of the five earliest states.

No Pelosi oppo drop after all: Gingrich practically brimmed with glee at the prospect of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) attacking him using evidence mined during her time on the House ethics committee.

Pelosi had told TalkingPointsMemo.com in an interview that she knows “a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him. Four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff.”

Gingrich countered Monday by pointing out that the ethics committee isn’t supposed to engage in partisan activities, and that Pelosi opened herself up to a reprimand by releasing confidential information.

Later Monday, though, a Pelosi spokesman said her comments referred only to documents that were part of Gingrich’s long public record.

Something tells us Gingrich would be happy to be attacked by Pelosi, particularly given how good a bogeyman she has been when it comes to the GOP base.

Susan B. Anthony endorses four for Congress: The anti-abortion rights group Susan B. Anthony List will endorse its first four Republican congressional candidates today.

The four are: Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), North Dakota at-large candidate Bette Grande, Missouri 2nd district candidate Ann Wagner and Indiana 2nd district candidate Jackie Walorski.

King faces former Iowa first-lady Christie Vilsack (D), while the rest are running in open-seat contests that the GOP will be favored to win.

SBA List is also going to endorse Ann Duke in the race for Pennsylvania state auditor.

Play the endorsement game: The Washington Post is out with a fun new way to try and beat The Fix at its own game, so to speak.

The Post’s GOP Presidential Endorsements Game asks you to tell us who you think 50 of the most coveted endorsers will back in the Republican presidential race, and then allows you to compare your predictions with The Fix.

So stop over and fill out your entry.

Fixbits:

Romney’s team is out with more mail in Iowa, this time accusing Obama’s campaign of being “obsessed” with ... Romney. More evidence that Romney is trying to win in the Hawkeye State.

Herman Cain says he’s not endorsing anybody any time soon.

The super PAC that was backing Cain must now decide what to do with its money.

Gingrich has been praising Cain for more than a decade.

Gingrich gets a big-name Iowa endorsement from Darrell Kearney.

Gingrich and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman will hold their Lincoln-Douglas-style debate Dec. 12 in Manchester, N.H., they announced Monday.

Gingrich elaborates on his contention that poor kids don’t have good work habits and should be paid to clean up their schools. Meanwhile, the Union Leader backs him up on this point, and knocks Romney for disagreeing.

David Axelrod says Gingrich is the “Godfather of Gridlock.”

The Florida state House is set to release its congressional redistricting proposal today.

A poll conducted for the local Chamber of Commerce shows Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D) leading Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) 42 percent to 37 percent.

Must-reads:

How Herman Cain’s train went off the rails” — James Oliphant, Los Angeles Times

A closer look at Mitt Romney’s job creation record” — Tom Hamburger, Melanie Mason and Matea Gold, Los Angeles Times

Romney staff spent nearly $100,000 to hide records” — Mark Hosenball, Reuters

In race for campaign funds from billionaires, Romney outpaces Obama” — T.W. Farnam, Washington Post

When Gingrich’s big thoughts backfire” — Trip Gabriel, New York Times

 
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