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THE MORMON FACTOR

Doubts about Mitt Romney’s fitness for the White House disappear when skittish Republicans, conservatives and even evangelicals consider the alternative: another four years of President Obama and his evolving administration. The emotionally charged issue is revealed in stark numbers:

“As Republican and Republican-leaning voters evaluate Romney, very few say his faith is a factor. A majority of Republican and Republican-leaning voters (56 percent) know that Romney is a Mormon. But just 8 percent say Romney’s religion makes them less likely to vote for him; 44 percent say it would not make a difference,” says a comprehensive survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Still, among white evangelical Republican voters, 15 percent say Mr. Romney’s religion would make them less likely to support him; among that group, Herman Cain remains the favorite. But there’s is a noteworthy dynamic at work should Mr. Romney — aka the “inevitable” candidate — face Mr. Obama in the 2012 race.

“There is no evidence that Romney’s Mormon faith would prevent rank-and-file Republicans, including white evangelicals, from coalescing around him if he wins the GOP nomination. Rather, the same Republicans who may have doubts about Romney’s faith are among the most vehement opponents of Barack Obama,” the Pew study says. “Fully 91 percent of white evangelical Republican voters say they would back Romney over Obama in a general election matchup.”

ROMNEYPHOBIA

Settle for Mitt Romney? Abandon the idea of a purist conservative standard-bearer? Aw, go ahead, says 2008 presidential contender Mike Huckabee, who has emerged on Republican radar after advising conservatives to get over their doubts about Mr. Romney and stop obsessing about perfection.

Mitt Romney every day of the week and twice on Sunday is going to be a much more effective president for issues that they care about than Barack Obama. And I think sometimes there is this anxiety within the Republican Party of who is the perfect candidate. The answer is: There isn’t one,” Mr. Huckabee recently told WABC radio.

Contrary to persistent rumor, Mr. Huckabee is not ready to endorse Mr. Romney. He is ready to wrangle Mr. Romney, however — along with a quartet of Republican hopefuls.

In the oncoming rush of debates, Mr. Huckabee will moderate a live, 90-minute candidate forum for Fox News on Dec. 3, showcasing the former Massachusetts governor, along with Reps. Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Sen. Rick Santorum.

Businessman Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. are undecided about joining the broadcast.

Joining Mr. Huckabee to pose questions to the hopefuls are three state attorneys general: Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II of Virginia, Pam Bondi of Florida and E. Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma.

CANDIDATE TRACKER

The Republican hopefuls are starting to get antsy, even as the holiday season sparkles ahead. The reason: the Iowa caucuses are just over a month away, generating a kind of Pavlovian response among the candidates, who may salivate and whine at the thought of the campaign trail. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich appears to be the busiest at the moment; some of the candidates have taken the weekend off. Here’s where the intrepid few will be in the next 72 hours:

Florida: Mr. Gingrich, businessman Herman Cain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

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