Romney Support Falls Back in States He Won

Romney Support Falls Back in States He Won

By Erin McPike - February 7, 2012

Under the original election calendar, the Romney campaign foresaw victories in New Hampshire and Nevada as a firewall protecting the candidate's path to the GOP nomination: Post big wins in both states, use the momentum to get a major win in Florida, and then lock up the whole thing. Nevada ended up moving its nominating contest back to follow the Sunshine State’s, but Romney still posted double-digit victories in all three contests.

And so everything's gone according to plan.

There’s just one problem: After waging warfare on his GOP competitors in each of those elections -- all in swing states that could be critical in a November matchup against President Obama -- Romney has left those contests less popular than when he started campaigning in earnest.

The news Monday in a national Washington Post/ABC News poll made waves: Obama’s approval rating shot up to 50 percent; the president bested Romney in a general election matchup; and he led his likely GOP rival among crucial independent voters.

And so the Romney campaign issued two memos to effectively distract from those findings. The first one, authored by campaign pollster Neil Newhouse, addressed the new survey.

“The poll introduced specific negative information about Governor Romney immediately prior to asking [about] the ballot matchup against President Obama,” Newhouse noted. He re-listed a series of questions the Post/ABC pollsters asked, including what respondents thought of Romney’s corporate work and his effective tax rate of 14 percent just before addressing the general election matchup. Newhouse concluded that “the questionnaire design . . . is seriously flawed.”

Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho distributed the polling memo to the press but did not respond to a request to expound.

The second memo was a rallying cry with the subject line “On a Roll,” which Romney political director Rich Beeson sent to supporters Monday afternoon.

“Another swing state -- another big victory,” Beeson noted. The memo was brief and pointed out that Romney won key conservative coalitions in Nevada, including tea party supporters, evangelical Christians and “very conservative” voters.

What it did not mention was that caucus turnout dropped precipitously from the 2008 contest, and that Romney did not perform as well on Saturday as he did then.

Ryan Erwin, Romney’s consultant in Nevada, put it this way, “This year, the excitement is different: This isn’t about going to Disneyworld; it’s about paying your mortgage.”

Maybe so, but in Florida and New Hampshire, the former Massachusetts governor’s favorability ratings have declined as negative campaigning in the GOP primary has raged.

A new WMUR Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire showed that likely general election voters favored Obama over Romney, 50 percent to 40 percent. In October, the same survey showed nearly the reverse, with Romney leading the president, 50 percent to 42 percent.

Florida polls have bounced around depending on the pollster, but the most recent survey -- an NBC/Marist poll with the largest of sample sizes -- shows Obama besting Romney by eight percentage points.

Some Romney allies concede that the numbers aren’t good now, but they dismiss the current polling for a multitude of reasons. Their candidate suffered losses over the past month to Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, noted one former Romney aide. And Jamie Burnett, Romney’s 2008 political director in New Hampshire, suggested Obama has gotten a free ride since the State of the Union, while the Republicans are the ones under media scrutiny.

Those dynamics may indeed be at play, but it doesn’t change the fact that Romney has some repair work to do if he hopes to win in November. 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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