Mitt Romney is unstoppable! He's hurtling at the 2012 Republican presidential nomination like a world-smashing asteroid. Except, well, is he really? The latest poll numbers give Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, a 30-point lead for the New Hampshire Republican primary. But how seriously should we take this?
First the numbers: A WMUR-UNH poll released yesterday afternoon shows that 40 percent of likely Republican voters would choose Romney. Rudy Giuliani comes in a distant second with 10 percent. Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee each poll at 7 percent, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin at 6 percent, Ron Paul at 5 percent, Donald Trump at 3 percent, and Rick Santorum and Haley Barbour at 1 percent each.
Now the caveats: Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, points out that while Romney could carry New Hampshire, his political style might not play in every red state. "Romney is doing well in part because his brand of Republicanism fits with most New Hampshire Republicans, who can be characterized as 'Rockefeller Republicans,'" Smith is quoted as saying in the WMUR item. "New Hampshire is one of the least religious states in the country, and social conservatives have difficulty winning here. Fiscal issues are much more potent in the Granite State."
Then, too, it's worth noting that these numbers are very much still in flux, since the actual primary is still more than a year away. Only 7 percent of "likely Republican primary voters" have made up their minds about who they'll vote for, according to WMUR. A full 78 percent of those polled haven't committed to a candidate yet.
So what's up with Romney? Rightward estimates of his chances seem mixed. Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post thinks he doesn't have a shot "unless he does a mea culpa on RomneyCare," and that he's only polling well because of name recognition. (Although, if name recognition juices numbers, wouldn't Guiliani and Palin's be higher than they are?)
On the other hand, Slate's David Weigel raises an eyebrow at a tidbit found near the end of the WMUR story. "Obama's chances of winning New Hampshire depend, at this point, on his opponent," the WMUR item reads. "In a hypothetical race between Obama and Romney, Romney leads, 49 to 41 percent. Against Palin, Obama does much better, leading 57 to 34 percent. Against Pawlenty, Obama leads 44 to 37 percent."
Choking down a Romney candidacy, if you're a New Hampshire voter angry about Massachusetts fees and health care or a voter from elsewhere just angry about health care, is going to require evidence that he's more electable than the guy you like. And here's some. This is the first poll I've seen in a while that has Obama losing electoral votes he won in 2008.
Something for BHO to keep in mind.