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January 17, 2008

Romney And Electability

The question of viability for Mitt Romney comes on two levels today. First, he appears to have given up on South Carolina just a day after restarting ads in the Palmetto State. Second, a new Rasmussen poll shows Romney coming up considerably short against both of the Democratic front-runners:

Just a day after his big win in Michigan, Mitt Romney ceded South Carolina to his rivals.

“This is a state I’d expect that Sen. [John] McCain has pretty well wrapped up,” Romney told reporters at the Sun City Hilton Head Retirement Center in Bluffton. “It would be an enormous surprise if he were unable to win here.” ....

Polls show Romney standing in solid third place in South Carolina, taking anywhere from 13 percent to 17 percent of the vote. But in Bluffton, Romney put himself in fourth place, noting that “even a strong fourth is better than what some of the other guys saw in Michigan last night.”

Romney is probably correct that he doesn't figure to challenge for the win in South Carolina. He has a much better shot in Nevada, where the state's caucus plays more into his organizational strengths. A win in Nevada will give him a small boost, a little more than widely-ignored and almost-uncontested Wyoming, and will balance out what is almost certain to be an also-ran finish in South Carolina.

He may have more trouble balancing out some of the latest polling on the national head-to-head contests. Rasmussen shows Mitt losing to both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the latter by double digits:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of general election match-ups shows Hillary Clinton leading Mitt Romney 47% to 41%. Barack Obama leads Romney 49% to 37%. The survey was completed before Romney’s victory in the Michigan Primary and is show both Clinton and Obama gaining ground over the past month ....

The former Massachusetts governor enjoys a double-digit advantage over Clinton among male voters, but trails by five points among that group when pitted against Obama. In both match-ups, Romney suffers a deficit of around 20 percentage points with female voters. Among unaffiliated voters, Romney is dead even with Clinton, 40% to 40%, but trails Obama by twelve points among this group, just as he does among likely voters as a whole.

It's still early, and the poor response to Mitt may reflect the volatile nature of Republicans in the primary. However, his numbers dropped against Hillary over the last four weeks. In mid-December, he beat Hillary 44%-43%, and this latest result shows an eight-point turnaround. He went from a six-point deficit against Obama and doubled it in the same period.

The polling took place before Mitt retooled the message and won Michigan. Perhaps that may reverse the trend and give him a bigger boost for the next head-to-head polling Rasmussen conducts. Something needs to change if Mitt wants to make the case that he can beat Hillary in a 50-state campaign.


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