The Right Unites Behind Romney

August 28, 2012

By PATRICK O’CONNOR, The Wall Street Journal

TAMPA, Fla.—Mitt Romney was never the first choice for conservative Republicans such as Jason Zier, a 43-year-old resident here who jumped on the Herman Cain bandwagon last summer before voting in the primary for Newt Gingrich.

But that hasn’t diminished his enthusiasm for supporting Mr. Romney in November. “This is the guy, so let’s go,” Mr. Zier said.

Self-described conservatives have rallied around Mr. Romney to oust the target of their disdain, President Barack Obama, a turnabout of sorts from the Republican primary campaign, when Mr. Romney struggled to generate enthusiasm from evangelicals and tea-party activists.

In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, nine out of 10 conservative Republicans said they plan to cast ballots for Mr. Romney. With both parties banking on their core supporters, this factor could be crucial in November.

In 2008, partly because of a lack of support for Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, 17 million self-described evangelicals stayed home on Election Day, including nine million registered voters, according to Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Today, the Faith and Freedom Coalition plans to shower conservative households in 10 swing states with phone calls, direct-mail pieces and emails. Many voters will receive direct mail that encourages them to “get off the fence and get in the game.”

In some ways, Mr. Romney’s lukewarm support from evangelicals and self-described “very conservative” voters during the primaries might have been misleading. In most of the closest contests, both groups showed a preference for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, according to exit polls of voters in those states. But they showed an overwhelming inclination to support Mr. Romney in a head-to-head match-up with the president.

“The hand-wringing and supposed animosity [toward Mr. Romney] was overstated,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group that is part of a consortium that plans to spend more than $200 million on television ads and grass-roots turnout. “I don’t think there was ever going to be a question that the base was going to be rock solid in support of the candidate,” he said.

Appealing to these groups, while important, comes with a price: potentially alienating centrist voters. To avoid that pitfall, Mr. Romney spent the week leading up to the convention distancing himself from remarks by Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, who suggested women’s bodies have the ability to prevent pregnancies in instances of “legitimate rape.”

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