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Why Romney Is a Very Frail GOP Frontrunner

Romney’s record on health care will also be a huge problem because his Massachusetts health care reform also includes an individual mandate, which is anathema to many conservatives.

The former governor has defended his health care plan, arguing that President Barack Obama’s one-size-fits-all approach is contrary to his own and that the Massachusetts plan is far different than Obama’s.

Some observers argue that Romney does have a case to make as to how his approach and the president’s are different, but that Romney is failing to assert some of the starkest differences.

Close observers of Romney and his team are also concerned that the flip-flop label that many tagged on him last time will continue to dog him.

They insist that Romney’s effort to deal with that charge by trying to present himself as among the most conservative candidates in the race actually undermines his greatest appeal — as a former businessman who understands how to create jobs and can be trusted with getting the nation’s economic house in order (including dealing with spending and debt).

Moreover, as a former officeholder and a repeat candidate who has strong appeal to the party establishment and to the business community, Romney isn’t likely to be embraced by tea party activists.

Finally, the expected Republican candidacy of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who recently announced he will resign his post as ambassador to China, is another headache Romney doesn’t need.

Huntsman, of course, comes from Utah and, like the former Massachusetts governor, is a Mormon. But that’s not the main problem for Romney.

As one insider noted to me recently: “Donors are going to love Huntsman. The press will take him seriously. He will bring some international credibility and be seen as smart. And, even worse for Romney, Huntsman will be a hard charger for the ‘establishment’ title.”

Romney’s strengths remain, and if history is any guide, he should begin the 2012 Republican race as the favorite. But his weaknesses seem even more glaring than they did just three years ago, and that’s why the GOP race now looks wide open.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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