The biggest question about the Republican nomination race has been this: Is Mitt Romney’s failure to move over 25% or so in the polls, and his relative lack of high-profile endorsements, an indication that his support may be fatally capped? If so his chances of winning the nomination are low, no matter how strong his position looks right now.
But the latest edition of Mark Blumenthal’s Pollster “Political Outsiders” survey — which gauges opinion among key party actors in early primary states — has some pretty good news for Romney: Perhaps he doesn’t have a low ceiling after all.
On the surface, the news doesn’t seem to favor Romney. Blumenthal finds that activists and party leaders in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are mostly doing what their Washington counterparts are doing: holding off. Not quite a third of Pollster’s respondents in those three key early states support anyone, and among the small group that has endorsed someone, Romney is only tied with Rick Perry. When Romney’s endorsements (14) aren’t even all that much better than Jon Hunstman’s (6) or Ron Paul’s (6), you know that he hasn’t tied up the nomination yet.
However, there are some very telling numbers in the survey behind those top-line endorsements. Add in those who report a “good chance” of endorsing Romney, and his support rises from only 8% of these local party players to a much more impressive 36%. Sure, 36% won’t win you the nomination. But the key for Romney isn’t having support now; it’s whether or not he’s ultimately acceptable to most party groups and leaders. And here, the news is very, very good for the former Massachusetts governor. Of the entire group, while 23% have already endorsed another candidate, only another 10% say they have “no chance” of supporting him for the nomination.
That, to me, is shockingly low. Add it up, and at least two thirds can picture themselves supporting Romney.
All told, I’d say this adds up to pretty strong evidence against the notion that Romney has a low ceiling within the Republican Party. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee he’ll win the nomination. But if these results are really a good indication of what Republican party actors are thinking across the nation, it makes his nomination much, much more likely.