Mitt Romney Hopes You'll Learn to Love Him

His strategy is based on the GOP settling down after they finish flirting with more exciting alternatives

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All the speculation that Chris Christie will jump in the presidential race has hurt the other candidates who've been laboring for months or even years to get voters to like them. Major donors are waiting to see if the New Jersey governor will get in the race--"No one has signed up with either major campaign in the last three weeks," one says--hurting the declared candidates who have to released their quarterly fundraising totals Friday. But the Christie drama stings the most for Mitt Romney. He's been running for president since 2005, and every knew conservative crush only highlights how hard it's been for him to rise above being the second choice of Republicans.

He's made all the right moves, The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny writes.  Even the White House thinks he'd be the toughest Republican to beat. But Republican voters remain unconvinced. "The time has long passed for Mr. Romney to be the first choice in the hearts of many Republicans," Zeleny writes. "So his strategy, by necessity, has evolved into being the last choice, an eat-your-vegetables candidate who may only be seen as more appealing when he is matched up alongside his rivals."
But with the past several years marked by Tea Party anger, voters don't want to eat their veggies. Republican strategist Alex Castellanos told The Washington Post's Philip Rucker, "The Republican Party is white hot... That’s why when you see a Sarah Palin, a Donald Trump or a Herman Cain -- whoosh! It's like a Roman candle.... But at some point, you stop flirting with the candidate you want and you marry the president you need."
Polls show Republicans aren't ready to settle down. The New York TimesNate Silver explains that post-debate polls show that Rick Perry's poor performance has hurt him, but voters who turned away from him have not gone to Romney. Perry, "averages about 22 percent of the vote... down materially from 28 percent in polls conducted between his first debate on Sept. 7, and Sept. 19. However, any gains for Mr. Romney -- in an absolute rather than relative sense -- are hard to perceive. He averages 22 percent in the surveys, up only nominally from 21 percent before." Instead, Herman Cain's support grew. Silver gives Romney even odds for winning the nomination, and the idea that "Republican voters are determined to pick someone more conservative than him has some support in this data."
New York's Jonathan Chait points out that Romney likes to say he's not a career politician--but not for a lack of trying. "The man lost a Senate race in 1994, eked out a win for governor in 2002, abandoned his office in 2006 when polls showed him trailing, and lost a presidential race in 2008, from which he's been running continuously since."
In 2007, during his last presidential campaign, Romney told The New York Times that being a Mormon missionary in France in the late 1960s--trying to sell the wine-loving French on a religion that forbids alcohol--was humbling, because it was the only time in his life when "most of what I was trying to do was rejected." Maybe that explains his Zen attitude about the constant rejection. He told MSNBC, "And so I'm saying, 'Look, I'm the guy at the time that’s needed. And if you guys agree, terrific. If you don't, that's your right, too.'"
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