The secret of Mitt Romney’s Iowa success? Electability.

at 02:14 PM ET, 01/02/2012

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney ’s rise to the top of the polls in Iowa is built almost exclusively on a single word: electability.


Former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets voters after speaking at a campaign event at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds January 2, 2012 in Davenport, Iowa. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Look inside the Des Moines Register poll, which showed Romney leading the way with 24 percent of the vote, and it’s clear that the former Massachusetts governor’s “head” appeal (we need to nominate someone who can beat President Obama next fall) is winning out over the doubts many voters in the state still have about his conservative bona fides and ability to relate to average Iowans.

(The full topline results of the Register poll are here.)

Nearly half of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers (48 percent) say that Romney was the “most electable” candidate in the field, well ahead of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (13 percent) and Texas Rep. Ron Paul (12 percent).

But on virtually ever other character measure, Romney falls well short. Just 10 percent of Republicans say he is the best at “relating to ordinary Iowans” (ahead of only Gingrich) while 7 percent said he is the “least ego driven” of the field.

Romney is similarly dwarfed on the question of who is the most knowledgeable candidate in the field (41 percent for Gingrich, 16 percent for Romney) and who will best limit the size and influence of government (44 percent Paul, 9 percent Romney).

What’s clear from the Register numbers is that while Iowa Republicans may not be in love with Romney they are in love with the idea of getting rid of President Obama next fall and believe the former Massachusetts governor is far and way the best candidate to do that.

The danger in Romney’s electability appeal, of course, is that it is based in practicality, not passion. And passion matters — particularly in a caucus setting where people have to be willing to dedicate a decent portion of their Tuesday night to picking a candidate.

Of course, excitement tends to follow winning — ah, human nature — and so if Romney is able to pull off a win tomorrow night, it’s uniquely possible that the passion gap he currently finds himself on the wrong side of narrows significantly before New Hampshire votes on Jan. 10.

If Romney disappoints in Iowa — third place or a distant second — then the passion gap could widen and Romney’s electability argument could lose its punch.

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