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The Morning Line: Romney’s the Man to Beat

BY David Chalian and Terence Burlij  June 16, 2011 at 9:12 AM EST

Mitt Romney is riding atop new national polls on the GOP 2012 field. Photo by AFP/Getty Images

For Mitt Romney to win the Republican presidential nomination he will need to have more weeks like this.

By most accounts the former Massachusetts governor delivered a solid debate performance Monday evening in New Hampshire, which was followed up Wednesday by the release of a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showing him leading the pack of GOP hopefuls.

Romney took 30 percent in the survey with his next closest competitor, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, at 14 percent. Businessman Herman Cain was third at 12 percent, followed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 8 percent, which means that two of the top four contenders aren’t even declared candidates.

The concern with riding atop the (largely over-hyped) national polls: Romney may have nowhere to go but down.

That gets us to another key figure from the survey. Less than half — 45 percent — of Republican primary voters are satisfied with their choices eight months out from the first nominating contest in Iowa.

That number stands in stark contrast to four years ago when 73 percent of the GOP electorate said they were pleased with the field of candidates that included Romney, Arizona Sen. John McCain, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

“In retrospect, the 2007-2008 field looks unusually strong compared to the current crop of candidates,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart.

And that sentiment shows through when it comes to how each candidate fares in head-to-head matchups with President Obama. None of the Republican contenders hold an advantage over the president, with Romney once again running the strongest, trailing Mr. Obama by six points, 49 percent to 43 percent.

In the newest edition of Time Magazine, Joe Klein writes that Romney’s effort to portray President Obama as “the grandson of Herbert Hoover and the son of Jimmy Carter” is “the single strongest argument the Republicans have going for them in 2012.”

If Romney is able to convince the half of the Republican electorate that is currently unenthusiastic about the field of that fact, then he’ll really be in business.

Klein also addresses that key challenge for the former governor. “[T]here is a jittery sense among Republican savants that Romney is a straw man, ready to be toppled, because the party has changed irrevocably. It has traded in country-club aristocracy for pitchfork populism,” writes Klein.

TEA PARTY TARGET

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is Utah’s longest serving United States Senator and currently in his sixth term.

Winning a seventh is likely to become one of the most significant political challenges of his career.

The Daily Caller’s Alex Pappas reports that FreedomWorks, Dick Armey’s Tea Party aligned political group, plans to launch its “Retire Orrin Hatch” campaign at the Utah Republican Convention this Saturday.

“The group says targeting Hatch is symbolic. It signals the beginning of the next wave of Tea Party activists working to replace Republican incumbents they see as too moderate and out of sync with a movement stressing fiscal conservatism.”

“‘The bottom line is Hatch doesn’t represent the state of Utah,’ said Russ Walker, the vice president of political and grassroots campaigns for FreedomWorks PAC. ‘The state of Utah is far more fiscally conservative than Orrin Hatch is. It’s an opportunity to pick up a seat, it’s an opportunity to find somebody who is better.’”

“Among grievances FreedomWorks has with Hatch is they say is a legislative history of voting to increase the debt ceiling 16 times, voting in support of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) legislation and voting against a ban on earmarks.”

Hatch is taking the threat very seriously. He watched his colleague Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, get ousted by Republicans and Tea Party activists in Utah last year in large part due to Bennett’s support for TARP.

Amid some booing in February, Hatch attempted to call his TARP vote a mistake and apologize for it, but to little success.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has signaled he is interested in entering the race and taking Sen. Hatch on for the GOP nomination.

WEINER WATCH

Updated 10:30 a.m. ET: Since publication of the Morning Line, reports have emerged that Rep. Weiner has decided to resign his seat in Congress and will make a formal announcement later Thursday.

Embattled New York Congressman Anthony Weiner continues to face the music more than 10 days after coming forward to admit to conducting lewd and inappropriate behavior online with several women.

His wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s senior aide Huma Abedin, has returned home after a trip to Africa with the secretary, which may help accelerate Rep. Weiner’s decision-making about his future.

And the House Democratic leadership plans to gather at noon Thursday to discuss additional options to apply pressure to Weiner to resign.

One option may be to begin the process of attempting to strip him of his Energy and Commerce committee assignment.  To do so, the entire House would have to eventually vote on the matter.

The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez has the latest on Weiner Watch.

GIFFORDS GOES HOME

Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords left the hospital Wednesday and went home — to League City, Texas.

The Houston suburb near the Johnson Space Center is where Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, lives, and it’s where she will begin the next phase of her recovery from injuries she suffered five months ago when a gunman shot her in the head in Tucson.

The Associated Press reports: “Giffords will still go to the hospital each day where she will participate in speech, music, physical and occupational therapy with the same team that has treated her since she arrived in Houston in late January.”

In a statement released by the hospital, Kelly said the move would hopefully spur on Giffords’ progress.

“Anyone who knows Gabby knows that she loves being outside,” Kelly said. “Living and working in a rehab facility for five months straight has been especially challenging for her.”

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