Independent pollster and political analyst Scott Rasmussen tells Newsmax that conservative voters are “absolutely” reluctant to accept Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential candidate.
Following Super Tuesday’s primaries and caucuses, which saw Rick Santorum win in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, and trail Romney by just one percentage point in Ohio, Rasmussen says Santorum has become a “serious alternative” to Romney.
And he predicts that whoever the GOP nominee is, President Barack Obama will provide the “incentive” for Republicans to rally behind the nominee.
Rasmussen is founder and president of Rasmussen Reports, an independent public opinion polling firm, and also author of the best-selling book, “The People’s Money: How Voters Will Balance the Budget and Eliminate the National Debt.”
Rasmussen argues in his book that there is a national uprising against American politicians who want “to govern like its 1775, a time when kings were kings and consent of the governed didn’t matter.”
The book has reached No. 1 in the Economics category on Amazon.com, and No. 4 in Politics, and is the top best-seller at barnes&noble.com.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Rasmussen analyzed Romney’s narrow victory in Ohio on Tuesday.
“You can look at it in one of two ways. It’s disturbing that it was such a narrow victory and he outspent Rick Santorum by a large amount to earn that narrow victory. You could also say this was a race where they were down 18 points two weeks ago, came back and won.
“And it continues a pattern. When the Romney campaign has had to win a state, they’ve won it. That happened in Florida. It happened in Michigan.
“I think there’s a little bit of truth to both sides of that analysis.”
Asked if there is still reluctance on the part of conservatives to accept Romney as the GOP candidate, Rasmussen responds: “Absolutely. You can read [RedState.com commentator] Erick Erickson’s comments today in which he talks about grudgingly acknowledging that Mitt Romney is probably going to be the nominee, and his final quote is ‘what a mess.’
“We see it in the exit polls — very conservative voters looking for somebody else.
“You have to put this into perspective, though. Four years ago Hillary Clinton’s supporters were very unhappy with Barack Obama. They told us they were very likely to vote for a third party or somebody other than Obama. But when push came to shove and Election Day arrived, they tended pretty much to support Barack Obama, the party’s nominee.
“I would expect the overwhelming majority of Republicans to support whoever the party nominee will be. Obama will supply the passion and the incentive. However, if Mitt Romney were to win the White House, conservative voters would be watching him very carefully in his early days in office.”
Commenting on Santorum’s wins in Tennessee and Oklahoma, despite being outspent by Romney, Rasmussen tells Newsmax: “It certainly gives Rick Santorum a reason to continue. Mitt Romney is the favorite. Mitt Romney is the most likely candidate to win the nomination. But Rick Santorum has a reason to continue. He has shown some strength and he has become a serious alternative to Mitt Romney.
“There has been from the beginning the presumption that Mitt Romney is the front-runner. There has been a reluctance to embrace him in that role.
“I think there’s something else going on that’s very important. Two weeks ago Rick Santorum was doing very well among tea party activists. In our polling in Michigan he was up by 35 points. He has lost that lead ever since the debate in Arizona when he talked about taking one for the team and supporting something he really didn’t believe in.
“Last night in Ohio, Santorum and Romney split the vote of those who support the tea party. And perhaps most stunning, voters who are angry at the government preferred Romney over Santorum.”
Rasmussen thinks the chances of a brokered Republican convention are “pretty slim,” adding that Romney “is in a position where he should be able to reach a majority of convention delegates before Tampa — barring a mistake.”
As to whether the infighting among GOP candidates will help Obama in November, Rasmussen says: “Certainly if it continues and becomes nastier and more personal, that is good news for President Obama. And we do have evidence that the favorability ratings of all the Republicans are down a little bit as this process has dragged on.
“On the other hand, if it shifts into a tone where all the candidates begin to focus on President Obama, if there is a grudging recognition of Romney as the front-runner, we might see a situation like we did four years ago when Clinton and Obama went at it. During that time Obama became a much better candidate. It’s a very fluid situation.
“The biggest misunderstanding that I see at the moment is that people are spending an awful lot of time on focusing on the details of the Republican primary and what that will do to the general election. The bigger story is what is going to be happening in the U.S. economy. That is still the first-, second-, and third-most important issue of this campaign.
“That includes the unemployment rate, the housing rate, gas prices. If it hits $5 a gallon, that’s unchartered waters, and it will be something that could change the dynamic.”
Editor's note: To get a copy of Scott Rasmussen's new book, “The People's Money: How Voters Will Balance the Budget and Eliminate the Federal Debt," at a good price at Amazon — Go Here Now.
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