Republicans Agree that Mitt Romney Is Most Electable

Mitt Romney’s ideological heterodoxies are well known among political observers, but this latest poll from The Washington Post and ABC News shows the extent to which those deviations may harm the former Massachusetts governor among the Republican Party’s most conservative voters.

According to The Washington Post, 48 percent of Republicans say they are less likely to support Romney for his health-care plan, a number that shoots to 55 percent among those who describe themselves as very conservative. What’s more, Romney’s Mormon faith puts him at a disadvantage among conservative voters –- 32 percent say that they are less likely to vote for Romney because of his Mormonism.

Even still, Romney maintains a lead in electability among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Thirty-three percent say that he “has the best chance to beat Barack Obama” -– compared to 21 percent for Georgia businessman Herman Cain, and 11 percent for Texas Governor Rick Perry -– and 20 percent agree that he “best reflects core GOP values.”

With all of this said, the most important number in the The Washington Post/ABC News survey has less to do with Romney’s strengths or vulnerabilities among the Republican electorate and everything to do with fluidity of the nomination contest, even with Romney as the favorite. Seventy percent of Romney’s supporters say that they could change their minds, with similar numbers for other candidates. Romney’s support among Republicans could collapse, or -– given the weakness of his competitors -– it could increase beyond its position in the mid–20s. Either way, it’s enough to inspire caution in the Romney campaign.

Insofar that there’s good news here, it’s for Rick Perry. If everyone is working with soft support, then there’s still a chance for Perry to build a coalition among the most conservative voters in the primary. But this depends on the governor’s ability to run a competent campaign, and so far, that doesn’t seem forthcoming.