At CPAC, anti-Obama is more popular than pro-Romney

Mitt Romney, CPAC
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON -- The Republican presidential front-runner, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, has struggled to gain enthusiastic support from conservatives on the campaign trail, and some analysts say he could be facing an "enthusiasm gap" as the campaign continues.

That enthusiasm gap is evident at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), too. The same issues plaguing Romney in the primary states are also evident among some of the most active conservatives who travelled from around the country to attend this gathering.

"I have a joke for you," 54-year old Jeff Simon from Fairfax, Va., said. "A conservative, a liberal and a moderate went into a bar and the bartender says, 'Hey Mitt, how you doin?"

Simon continues, "That sums up the problem with Mitt Romney. You don't know who he is."

Simon expressed a sentiment common around the halls of the Washington Marriott this weekend.

"He might as well be a Democrat in my opinion," 20-year old Luis Herrera, who is supporting Santorum, said.

Instead of listening to Romney's speech, Herrera and Brooklyn Cole waited in line to shake Rick Santorum's hand.

Vicki Sciolaro, an evangelical Christian from Leawood, Kansas, attended CPAC with her daughter, Rachel. The two have traveled to various primary states to volunteer for Texas Governor Rick Perry, but after he dropped out before the South Carolina primary, the duo decided to back former House speaker Newt Gingrich because Perry encouraged his supporters to do so.

When Hotsheet asked if they could support a Romney candidacy, the outspoken Vicki Sciolaro became speechless. After several breaths and a few "uhs" and "ums," Sciolaro gave a politician-like non-answer.

"OK, I would not, not vote. That would be wrong. I'm just doing everything in my power for it not to be Romney," Sciolaro said.

For the Sciolaros, they couldn't trust what Romney thought on the issues. They pointed to a voters guide by the socially conservative organization the Family Research Council. For four of the ten categories, including a ban on human cloning, repeal of the estate tax and opposition to taxpayer funding of stem cell research, Romney received "mixed" status -- meaning he has come out on both sides of the issue.

That's not to say that Romney doesn't have plenty of support at CPAC. For many, the reason is not his charisma, his positions or his policies, but because they perceive he has the best chance to beat President Obama in November.

The Smith family from Long Island are Romney backers. They like his economic experience, but they say the most important reason is "electability."

"Electability is number one," Ken Smith said. His adult daughter Erica agreed. "Most importantly, he can beat Obama."

When Hotsheet asked John Swobe why he likes Romney, he said, "It's not a very good answer, but he's the guy who can beat Obama, really."

A more accurate showing of Romney's support among conservatives might be more evident after results from the CPAC straw poll are released Saturday because it will consist of a much broader sample of the crowd.

But even though Romney doesn't draw the most enthusiasm among the Republican base, their desire to defeat President Obama trumps any concerns they have for Romney.

Herrera, the twenty-year old Santorum supporter, summed it up: "At the end of the day, we just really truly want to beat Obama."

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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