Mitt Romney is in a statistical dead heat in a general election matchup with President Obama in a new Washington Post- ABC News poll, a finding sure to bolster the former Massachusetts governor’s argument that he is the most electable candidate in the GOP field.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney greets supporters at a campaign stop in Florence, South Carolina, January 17, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Young

Romney’s strong showing against Obama comes as a series of national polls — including the Post-ABC survey — reveal him widening his lead over his Republican primary opponents.

Romney took 36 percent among registered Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in the new Post-ABC poll. Gingrich and Paul tied for second with 16 percent each while Santorum took 13 percent and Perry 9 percent. That’s a marked improvement for Romney over where he was just one month ago when he and Gingrich were tied at the top.

Romney’s momentum — in both the primary and general election — appears to be built around the idea that he is the all-but-inevitable nominee, having won both the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. (Almost three quarters of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they expect Romney to be their nominee against Obama.)

Romney’s strength in a hypothetical matchup against Obama is sure to add to the sense within the GOP that not only is he the most likely nominee but he is also the strongest nominee.

The former governor’s greatest strength against Obama appears to be his ability to appeal to independents; he leads the incumbent 50 percent to 38 percent among unaffiliated voters, a margin that matches the largest he has ever enjoyed against the president.

(Interestingly, Obama holds a 54 percent to 40 percent edge over Romney among those who describe themselves as “moderates”, a data point that makes clear that “independent” and “moderate” are not synonymous.)

Both men win their respective bases convincingly — dispelling the idea that Romney might have trouble on his ideological right if he is the nominee. Romney wins 88 percent of self identified Republicans including 92 percent of those who identify themselves as conservative GOPers. By comparison, Gingrich wins 84 percent of conservative Republicans in a faceoff against Obama while Paul wins just 78 percent. Obama takes 87 percent of Democrats against Romney.

A look at other internal numbers from the Obama-Romney matchup suggest we are headed toward a very traditional partisan election — more like 2004 than 2008.

Romney leads by 18 points among white voters but Obama has a 55 point spread among non whites. Romney leads among men by 16 points while Obama is ahead among women by 12. Young(ish) voters — age 18-39 — prefer Obama by six points; older voters — 65+ — opt for Romney by 11.

The new Post-ABC numbers confirm what the political world has long known: Romney has the best chance of beating Obama in 2012 and, if Republicans nominate the former Massachusetts governor, the race this November is going to be very close.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.


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