MANCHESTER, N.H. — Whether they’re social conservatives, fiscal hawks or Tea Party activists, what most Republicans want in a presidential nominee is someone who can beat President Obama, voters and political strategists agree.
Even the candidates in Monday night’s debate here appeared to side with front-runner Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, that any of the GOP contenders on stage would be a better president than Obama.
"I am going to look toward who is strongest to mount an effective campaign against the president," said Larry Zellner, 56, of Manchester, during an early breakfast of eggs and raisin toast on Tuesday at the Red Arrow diner.
Romney appeals to Zellner’s fiscal conservatism, especially because Zellner’s profession, industrial sales, is tough to navigate in today’s economy, he said. A registered independent, he intends to vote Republican in this state’s February primary. He’s leaning toward Romney, though his mind isn’t made up.
"I will get behind who proves to be the most electable," he said.
Polls show a majority of Americans disappointed in the president’s performance might feel the same, experts say. It was the consensus among GOP loyalists who gathered before the debate for a forum at St. Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.
That means the Republican Party might not be irreparably fractured, said GOP strategist Charlie Gerow of Harrisburg. He notes that among Republican voters, "Electability is a key factor in their selection of a favorite primary candidate."
More than 3 million people watched the debate, CNN said. Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who earned headlines by announcing her campaign during the debate, emerged afterward as favorites. Romney glided through the two hours without any of the anticipated attacks by the other candidates: former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Georgia businessman Herman Cain, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"Most Republican voters care more about defeating Obama than picking a nominee who is right on all the issues," said Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University. "Reactions to the debate confirm that the GOP electorate will be activated, even if it is a candidate such as Romney who has not exactly won the full confidence of many conservatives."
Notably absent from the event were former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin; former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who told the Tribune-Review he will announce his candidacy next week; and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is said to be mulling a run.
It’s difficult to predict how the candidates might fare over the next several months, Rozell said.
"Bachmann made a big impression last night, but she isn’t considered one of those mainstream electable types," he said, and although she demonstrated she can connect with differing GOP constituencies, her staying power could be a factor.
Christopher Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio, looks at which candidates appear to be drawing attention from Obama White House strategists.
"It isn’t Bachmann, Cain, Paul or Gingrich," he said. "They are looking at Romney, Pawlenty, and Huntsman as the three most likely troublesome contenders, and I think that is right."
Read more: Analysis: Electability top trait for Republican voters – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/s_742109.html#ixzz1PLbAxFwC