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For Republicans, It’s a Matter of Head or Heart

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Some Republicans — political strategists and operatives, lobbyists and party veterans — regard Mitt Romney as possibly the only nominee who can beat President Barack Obama.

CNN’s Nov. 11-13 survey, for example, showed Romney leading Obama 51 percent to 47 percent, while Gingrich trailed the president by 8 points and Cain and Perry each trailed by 10 points. Among independents, Romney led by 8 points, while the others trailed the president.

But polls and logic won’t convince some anti-Romney Republicans, particularly the true believers who last cycle picked Christine O’Donnell over Mike Castle in Delaware’s GOP Senate primary, Ken Buck over Jane Norton in Colorado’s GOP Senate primary and Sharron Angle over anyone in Nevada’s GOP Senate contest.

The question is whether there are enough true believers to nominate someone other than Romney, thereby putting up a weaker general election candidate against Obama. In other words, is this 1964, when Republicans listened to their heart over their head? That year, of course, President Lyndon Johnson looked unbeatable, so the Republican nomination didn’t have the value it is likely to have next year.

For conservatives who are also veterans of the nation’s capital, the choice is becoming harder to deny.

“Many of us are coming to the conclusion that although ideology matters, the choice comes down to getting a candidate who is closer to our values [than President Obama] and can win,” said one veteran Republican who initially backed another Republican hopeful but is clearly moving toward Romney as the Iowa caucuses approach.

“The stakes are too high for us to pick the wrong nominee for the 2012 election. Just think about possible Supreme Court vacancies over the next four years,” argued another longtime Capitol Hill veteran who has not yet picked a horse in the GOP presidential race but clearly thinks Romney has the best chance of derailing the president’s re-election bid.

A third Republican veteran, who is neutral in the presidential contest, echoed the same point, arguing that beating Obama is the No. 1 priority for most Republican voters at the end of the day.

“But it’s not just that we are picking someone to lead the country — we have to live with this person every night on TV for four years,” said the observer about why Romney might well have the advantage in the race, eventually.

Few endorsements actually matter in a presidential race, but they do tell us something about how party insiders evaluate the candidates and their prospects. The former Massachusetts governor has more endorsements from Congressional Members than all other GOP hopefuls combined.

While a few are unapologetic conservatives, and many are from reliably red states, a substantial number of endorsements come from current and former officeholders from competitive states.

That list includes former Govs. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and John Sununu of New Hampshire, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), former Sens. Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) and Reps. Aaron Schock (Ill.), Judy Biggert (Ill.), Nan Hayworth (N.Y.) and Jim Gerlach (Pa.), just to mention a sampling.

Those insiders understand the nature of Romney’s appeal, or rather the problems that would be created for them and their party if the GOP nominates someone other than Romney next year.

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