There’s a growing consensus among those covering the Iowa caucuses most closely that Ron Paul is going to win here.
But get beyond the confines of the cornfields, and Paul’s appeal to the GOP electorate starts to diminish.
Iowa is all about organizing and energizing a very small percentage of Republican voters. In 2008, for example, less than 20 percent of all registered Republicans in the state showed up to caucus.
The Paul campaign has a committed group of voters and it knows how to get them to the polling places.
So, what happens to Paul after Iowa? Well, the short answer is that it gets really hard for him.
According to the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll just 37 percent of Republicans think Paul has the temperament or personality to “serve effectively as president.” Moreover, just 42 percent of Republicans think Paul would pursue policies that “most people in this country would accept.” Only 9 percent think he’s the most electable Republican in the field.
Remember, this is what Republicans think about him.
Romney, meanwhile, has a broader appeal than he gets credit for.
He is tied with Newt Gingrich for first place in the primary contest, yet leads Gingrich on the question of who Republicans trust more to handle the economy (+6), social issues (+11), and even health care (+2). He’s also seen as the most electable Republican in the field.
Meanwhile, Romney may not be everyone’s first choice, he is the leading second choice among Republicans who do not currently name him as their top pick.
Gingrich is preferred by those who consider themselves “very conservative” but among those who call themselves “strongly” supportive of the tea party, he and Romney are tied.
Voters aren’t passionately attached to Romney, but they aren’t committed to going steady with Gingrich either. Sixty-three percent of Romney voters say they could change their mind; 67 percent of Gingrich voters say they could switch their vote.
In other words, while it’s fair to say that Romney is not the first choice of most Republican voters, it’s not fair to say that those who aren’t supporting him now will never vote for him in the future.
This is why a drawn out contest helps Romney. He’s got the money, organization and outside support needed to sustain a multi-front war. And, in the end, Republicans see him as an acceptable alternative.