The Tough Sell

Nashua, New Hampshire—Mitt Romney is the sort-of acceptable man in this year’s Republican field. His strong victory here yesterday was rooted in his support from all quadrants of the Republican Party. He carried 40 percent of the voters who told exit pollsters that they supported the Tea Party movement, a far higher percentage than anyone else in the field. (Ron Paul finished second with 22 percent of Tea Partiers.) Romney also led the field among voters who said they were neutral toward the Tea Party. Only among voters who said they opposed the Tea Party—and that was just 17 percent of yesterday’s Republican electorate—did he come in second, to Jon Huntsman.

Romney also carried all but one income category, doing best among voters whose annual income exceeded $200,000. The only income category he lost was those voters whose annual income was less than $30,000, a group won by Ron Paul. Paul’s voters were disproportionately young, male, low-income, unmarried—and not self-described conservatives. Paul came in first among voters who described themselves as “somewhat liberal.” His anti-foreign-war message clearly attracted a number of voters—young working-class men in particular—who are far from conventional conservatives.

Huntsman, who came in a distant third, was clearly the candidate of those voters who were appalled by the Republican Party’s rightward drift. He won a strong plurality of those voters who said they were satisfied with President Obama, and a weak plurality (with Paul second) of those voters who said they were dissatisfied with the Republican field. In his stump speeches, Huntsman’s biggest applause line is his call for congressional term limits.

Not surprisingly, it’s Paul’s and Huntsman’s supporters who show the most resistance to backing Romney should he win the nomination. By more than a 3-to-1 margin, Paul’s legions say they won’t be satisfied should Romney win the nomination. Looking at all the polling, you can infer that Romney shouldn’t have much trouble winning the backing of Republican regulars—including Rick Santorum’s and Newt Gingrich’s voters—once he cinches the nomination. But winning the allegiance of Huntsman’s upscale swing voters and Paul’s down-scale young ones should prove more difficult.  Some of Huntsman’s voters may be more culturally attuned to Obama than Romney. Many of Paul’s will probably just stay home.

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