GOP mood toward Romney's fall prospects brighten

By Brian Bakst

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, June 10 2012 11:22 a.m. MDT

In this June 8, 2012, photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney smiles has he talks with his staff while riding on his bus after a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Republicans riding high from a string of breaks in their favor are increasingly optimistic about Mitt Romney's chances to claim the White House in November, even among conservatives who had qualms about making him the party's nominee.

The bullish take is reflected in interviews with party strategists and activists, including people who supported Romney rivals during the primary season. Mood matters because it can fuel fundraising and volunteer hustle. But some of those GOP players stress that Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has little room for error if he expects to topple an incumbent president.

The chest-thumping follows a GOP victory in last week's Wisconsin recall election that saved Gov. Scott Walker's job. The race galvanized Republicans who saw it as an early 2012 referendum on conservative fiscal principles in an election that was likely to hinge on the shape of the economy.

Even Rick Santorum, who spent a primary season casting doubt on Romney's ability to succeed in a general election, says things are looking up for Romney.

"I can tell you, I feel a little bit better about that election since what happened on Tuesday up in Wisconsin," Santorum said Friday at a Conservative Political Action Conference in Chicago.

Some Republican voters concede they aren't as passionate about electing Romney as they are about booting Democratic President Barack Obama from the Oval Office.

"He's obviously it, and he's what is left," FBI agent David Hirtz, an active member of his central Illinois tea party, said of Romney. "Anybody is better than Obama."

In mid-May, a USA Today/Gallup poll found 81 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents predicting an Obama victory. Among Republicans, 68 percent thought Romney will win — about the same percentage of faith GOP voters placed in 2008 nominee John McCain at this point in his campaign.

But that was before the closely watched Wisconsin recall, the release of key campaign finance figures and the latest figures on job growth raised concerns about a slowing economic recovery, which gave Romney more fodder to pound Obama's stewardship.

Romney and his Republican allies pulled down more money than Obama and aligned Democratic Party committees in May, a notable shift in the money chase. The $76 million haul was a big jump up from what Romney and the GOP had raised the month before, and it was comfortably above the $60 million gathered by the combined Obama team.

A conservative base that was deeply splintered during the Republican primaries has coalesced around Romney even faster than some in the party were expecting.

That's the case with Bobbi Jo Rohrberg, a 36-year-old teacher and conservative blogger from southwestern Iowa who backed Santorum at the state's leadoff caucuses in January. She was worried a Romney nomination would look too much like McCain's fateful run.

Rohrberg said Romney initially struck her as someone who was "not going to have a lot of bite, not going to show the teeth, going to be very likeable and agreeable to go along and get along, which isn't going to get you anywhere if you are going to win."

But she said those concerns faded after Romney blasted Obama outside failed California solar energy company Solyndra, which received federal stimulus loans, and his recent efforts to brand the president as incapable of guiding the economy.

Virginia Procuniar, who plans to contribute money to Romney after initially holding back, said her confidence in his chances comes from seeing Obama have to play defense more regularly.

"Obama is his (own) worst enemy. As he gets more in a corner and more on the defensive, he's making gaffes that are ticking people off," said Procuniar, who at 65 recently retired from the insurance company in Chicago.

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