[Posted by Karl]
There are competing narratives about the Romney campaign. The Romney narrative is that conservative opposition to Romney is fading. The NotRomney narrative is that the various NotRomneys have been hobbled by their own mistakes, bit “if 70% of the party almost despises a mistake-free candidate,” Mitt has deep problems as a candidate. Both narratives run into problems with the available data.
Romney adviser Stuart Stevens claims that Romney beats any of the NotRomneys head-to-head. However, in public polling, Perry beat Romney 49/39 before he stumbled on style and was found wanting by some righties on substance. Last month, Romney beat Perry by a 54/39 split. Last week, Gingrich beat Romney by a whopping 57/24 advantage in a new poll from the blogosphere’s old pal, Eason Jordan.
On the other hand, it is far from clear Romney has a hard ceiling. It’s true that he has been trending down for almost a month in the RCP poll average and seemingly remains stuck in a range. But the lack of a true consensus NotRomney shows more potential upside for Romney. In the last WaPo/ABC poll, as Herman Cain’s numbers were just starting to erode, Mitt got 41% of the first- and second-choice votes; if Cain dropped out, Romney was likely to benefit as much as or more than Newt Gingrich.
Yet there is bad news for Romney even in that poll. 70% of Romney supporters say they could change their minds, much the same level as the various NotRomneys. Moreover, four years ago, a similar WaPo/ABC poll had Romney taking 56% of the first- and second-choice votes against an arguably stronger field of challengers.
Ultimately, the race is not Romney’s to lose — but it’s also not his to win. Mitt’s fate likely remains at the voters’ judgment of each of the NotRomneys. He is well-positioned for a war of attrition, but the outcome may well depend on third- and fourth-choice support.