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Inside Politics

Romney emerges as insider favorite for GOP in '08

Story Highlights

• Mitt Romney was the top pick of Republican National Committee members
• Romney also was top pick in straw poll of conservative activists at CPAC
• Former Massachusetts governor has adopted more conservative views
• Conservatives increasingly angry with Arizona Sen. John McCain
By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Who's the insider favorite for the Republican nomination? The answer may come as a surprise.

The Los Angeles Times interviewed Republican National Committee members to find out their preference for their party's 2008 presidential nomination.

Their top pick? Mitt Romney -- former governor of the bluest state in the country, Massachusetts. Twenty percent of RNC members polled said he was their top pick. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani came in second with 14 percent and Sen. John McCain of Arizona came in third with 10 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was fourth with 8 percent.

The Times interviewed 133 of the 165 RNC members between February 13 to 26.

Romney tried to woo conservatives last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, telling delegates "coming from Massachusetts, I saw the liberal future first hand, and it doesn't work." (Watch the candidates make their best pitches to conservative activists Video)

But will conservatives support Romney, a man some call "another flip-flopper from Massachusetts"?

"He evolved very clearly from a very socially-moderate, Northeast Republican to a very conservative, socially-conservative, Republican who would do well in the red states," said Frank Phillips of the Boston Globe.

Maybe conservatives do believe in evolution.

Conservative activists met in Washington on Saturday and took their own straw poll for the Republican nomination.

The winner? Again, Mitt Romney, who was the top pick of 21 percent of the CPAC attendees. Seventeen percent picked Giuliani, 15 percent picked Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, 14 percent picked Gingrich and 12 percent picked McCain.

Participants paid John McCain back for turning down an invitation to address CPAC by putting him in fifth place.

Third at the RNC and fifth at CPAC -- isn't McCain supposed to have the inside track?

Maybe not.

More than 80 percent of RNC members have a favorable opinion of Romney and Giuliani. Compared to 56 percent favorable for McCain. Thirty-eight percent of party insiders don't like McCain.

Maybe because he's picked fights with them in the past. And sponsored legislation they don't like -- something Romney emphasized during his CPAC speech, telling delegates he would repeal McCain-Feingold, the campaign finance legislation the Arizona senator co-sponsored with liberal Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

McCain has made up with President Bush and supports the President's troop build-up in Iraq.

But that may not help him. Most national committee members, 51 percent, want the next Republican nominee to move the country in a new direction. Only 29 percent of the RNC members polled want to continue President Bush's policies.

Which may be one reason why two Washington outsiders, Romney and Giuliani, are the insiders' top choices.

RNC members pick Giuliani as the candidate with the best chance of beating the Democrat, but Giuliani has not "evolved" as far as Romney. He told conservatives at CPAC, "We don't always see eye-to-eye on everything."

Romney told them, "I stood at the center of the battlefield of every major social issue.''

The Los Angeles Times also canvassed 313 of the 386 members of the Democratic National Committee. Their top choice: Hillary Clinton, with 20 percent, followed by John Edwards with 15 percent. Barack Obama was third, with 11 percent.

Asked who would be their strongest candidate to beat the Republican next year, Democratic insiders said Clinton. Which suggests her party is not too concerned about Senator Clinton's electability.


Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the top pick for 20 percent of Republican National Committee members, according to a Los Angeles Times poll.



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