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Mitt's Mass. Numbers Sag

A new poll released Tuesday by the University of Massachusetts shows Gov. Mitt Romney (R) trailing state Attorney General Tom Reilly (D) by 15 points in a head-to-head matchup. And, only 39 percent of those tested think Romney "deserves re-election" compared with 55 percent who said it is "time for a change."

Most politicos expect Romney to pass on a run for a second term; instead, he's one of the often-mentioned names for the 2008 presidential nomination race.  As such, it makes sense to look at if (and how) these latest poll numbers could affect Romney's potential on the national stage.

Not surprisingly, it wasn't hard to find an adviser to another Republican often mentioned as a 2008 candidate who was willing to give me his own "analysis" of the latest Massachusetts poll.

In 2002, "[Romney] was running as a moderate Republican in a liberal state," explained the strategist, who asked that his name not be used so that he could speak freely about a potential opponent. "Now he is shifting his focus and basically telling everyone that elected him, 'Everything I said before was not really true.'"

The Fix isn't sold on that argument -- at least not yet.

Neil Newhouse, a partner at the Republican polling firm of Public Opinion Strategies (and Romney's pollster), offered an interesting and thoughtful perspective on why Romney's numbers are where they are.

"Truthfully, the UMass poll showing a big Reilly lead is meaningless," said Newhouse. "The main reason why Mitt is trailing Reilly is that Mass voters have doubts as to whether he's running for reelection.  Should he decide to run, the ballot will close overnight."

Romney has said he will decide by mid-December whether to run for a second term, run for president or retire entirely from politics.

While Romney's political future remains an open question, there is little doubt he has moved to the ideological right of late on two issues that social conservatives hold dear -- a strategy seemingly aimed more at 2008 than 2006. In May he vetoed a bill that would have allowed the cloning of human embryos in stem cell research; two months later he used his veto pen again on a bill on the use of emergency contraceptives in cases of rape.

Couple that with a report in the Boston Globe on Sunday that Romney has already made 20 out-of-state trips in 2005, and we could be seeing the beginnings of the same sort of problem that plagued former North Carolina senator John Edwards (D) when he was contemplating a presidential bid in 2004.

As Edwards traveled the country to promote a national bid, his poll numbers in North Carolina sank.  Edwards eventually chose to retire to focus full-time on running for president, but even if he had chosen to run for both offices he might have struggled to win a second term in the Senate.

If you're looking for more background on Romney, the Atlantic Monthly featured a long profile on the governor in its September issue.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 5, 2005; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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