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Are Republicans ready to date Romney?

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
October 5, 2011 -- Updated 2114 GMT (0514 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gloria Borger: Mitt Romney isn't many Republicans' first choice
  • But she says Romney has proved to have staying power while other candidates haven't
  • Romney is steady, dependable, with some appeal to independents, she says
  • Borger: Romney waits for a sign that he's the GOP choice

Editor's note: Gloria Borger is CNN's chief political analyst, appearing regularly on shows such as "AC360," "The Situation Room," "John King USA" and "State of the Union."

Washington (CNN) -- So now that the Republican Party has dated just about everyone in the field, the question remains: What about the fellow your parents tried to fix you up with in the first place? Does he look any better now? Are you ready to get serious about him?

Mitt Romney is still at the door, waiting for you to say yes.

It's understandable, of course, that Republicans have been reluctant. They've flirted with Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, Paul Ryan and Mitch Daniels. They were searching for something new, and Romney is definitely not new. In fact, he lost last time around. He's also got that Massachusetts health care plan (mandates!) hanging around his neck. He's been all over the lot on some social issues, like civil unions (now, of course, firmly opposed). And Romney can be annoyingly mechanical as a candidate.

But through it all, Romney has been there, waiting. 'The tortoise," declares unaligned GOP strategist Charlie Black. Patient. Smiling. Always ready with the right rejoinder. (Nice try, Rick Perry!) And he looks better all the time: He's proved to be a facile debater. He has weathered all the GOP tea party crushes (Perry, Cain, Bachmann, Trump, Palin). He's cleaned up his act a bit re: flip-flopping, deciding to stop apologizing for his health care plan and instead explain why he did it in his state — and why it's not good for the nation as a whole.

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Sure, he may more robo than romantic. But he is also what many of the other candidates in the GOP field are not. He's steady, dependable, with some crossover appeal to voters who actually determine presidential elections: independents.

It's not that Romney has the nomination all sewn up post-Christie. He doesn't. A Perry or Bachmann win in Iowa complicates the race. A Jon Huntsman upset in New Hampshire redraws it. But it doesn't hurt that most of the candidates who have competed with Romney for a certain political space — the fiscally conservative, business-oriented, budget-cutting man with experience — have opted out or are struggling. The more traditional business wing of the Republican party just doesn't have another settled place to go, and the last remaining big-money types will probably end up with Romney.

The tea party — and much of the rest of the GOP base — has tried to come up with a Romney alternative. They're still auditioning a bunch of candidates. Not too long ago, the favorite populist alternative was Rick Perry. But his poor debate performances have stalled his meteoric rise. Funny about this process: Voters need to really watch and listen to the candidates to size up their presidential appeal. That notion hasn't been kind to Perry.

There is, of course, Sarah Palin. She's been happy to be the wedding crasher, showing up in New Hampshire the day Romney announces, showing up in Iowa around the straw poll in the summer. She's full of winks and hints and criticism of her fellow Republicans. But she's not in. And even if she were to get in, her numbers are inescapable: The latest Washington Post/ABC poll reports that only 31% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents want her to run. Not exactly a groundswell.

Go figure. This was supposed to be the year the Republican Party would boldly break its own mold. Newly recruited activists clearly wanted nothing to do with an establishment line of succession for a nominee, as has been the case in the past: It was Ronald Reagan's turn in 1980, George H. W. Bush's turn in 1988, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole's turn in 1996. George W. Bush was a relative newcomer, but, hey, politics was the family business. Then came John McCain, who beat out Romney.

So now, Romney waits, fine-tuned from his last time around. Republicans are still looking, but there's no denying the obvious: Romney is at the door, ready to go steady.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

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