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Beltway doesn't get Romney's vulnerability

By Erick Erickson, CNN Contributor
September 26, 2011 -- Updated 1530 GMT (2330 HKT)
Candidates Herman Cain, from left, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry chat before a CNN debate September 12.
Candidates Herman Cain, from left, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry chat before a CNN debate September 12.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Erick Erickson: Inside-Beltway pundits act as if Romney has inside track in GOP race
  • He says they overestimate Romney's appeal to Republicans
  • Romney has had weak performances in many key states
  • Erickson: Many Washington insiders have ties to Romney

Editor's note: Erick Erickson, a CNN contributor, is editor of redstate.com.

(CNN) -- When the bulk of the Republican pundits and prognosticators support one candidate, the reporters and political analysts who rely on those Republicans tend to act as if that candidate is the one everybody supports.

The media, in effect, have become film critic Pauline Kael, who allegedly expressed surprise when Richard Nixon won, because no one she knew had voted for him.

This is what is going on with Mitt Romney. Just about every Republican pundit, commentator, and prognosticator that the media rely on for an insider take on the GOP -- no matter how objective the inside take is expected to be -- is within the Mitt Romney sphere of influence.

Erick Erickson
Erick Erickson

Consider, for example, National Journal, which is perhaps the best barometer of inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom in existence. In National Journal's poll of Republican insiders, Mitt Romney dominates. But take a look at who those insiders are: Nearly a quarter of the Republicans listed are or have been in recent years directly connected to Romney.

More than once in the past six months I've been on CNN and had reporters, analysts, and others express surprise that Romney was not doing as well as expected. Of course they would expect him to do well, when so many Republicans in their sphere of influence tout Romney.

But look outside the Beltway, and Romney has a serious problem, and has had that problem for some time.

Cain's Florida win a GOP game-changer?

In Florida, Romney, who is polling in second place in the state, came in third in the straw poll (a poll in which people pay to cast a vote), beaten by Herman Cain and Rick Perry. Romney chose not to participate, instead focusing on Michigan.

In Michigan -- he's a native of Michigan, where his father was governor -- Romney came in first in a straw poll, followed by Perry and Cain. Romney captured 50% of the vote, his strongest showing. But the Michigan primary comes after the caucuses and primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire (where he is ahead), South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada, whose popular governor just endorsed Perry.

In Iowa, Romney came in behind Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Cain, and Perry, who'd only become a candidate a few hours before the poll closed. As in Florida, Romney chose not to actively participate, but did participate in the Iowa debate prior to the straw poll.

Within a week of Perry entering the 2012 field, Romney lost his front-runner status in the polls to Perry. Despite two less than stellar debate performances, Perry managed to hold on. Polling has not yet come out after his dismal third debate performance, though the Florida straw poll suggests that performance will hurt Perry.

As long as the field remains crowded and Perry, as the guy most likely to consolidate the anti-Romney field right now, remains uninspiring and unredeemed from his last debate performance, Romney benefits. But he benefits not as the candidate who excites the base, nor the one whom the base wants to fight for, but as the candidate whose attributes no one in the grass roots wants, while the rest of the pack divides up over all the attributes the base does want.

Romney also benefits because -- since so many reporters, analysts, pundits and others presume him the nominee and since he was vetted in 2008 -- the media have been less likely to dwell on his record and issues, instead choosing to focus on the new candidates.

Consequently, while the public has been exposed to three consecutive debates delving deep into Perry's HPV vaccine executive order -- an order that affected precisely zero people, as it was overturned by the Texas legislature before being implemented -- the public has not been exposed to the continuing effects of Romney's "Romneycare" in Massachusetts, which has become a financial drain on the state.

That's not exactly a position to envy. Romney's vetting will now come closer to the start of the primaries, and he remains without a natural constituency, outside of the Beltway crowd that the Republican base holds in almost as much contempt as they do President Obama.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Erick Erickson.

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