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A focus group conducted by NBC/Wall Street Journal pollster Peter Hart (D) on behalf of the Annenberg Public Policy Center is shedding some light on Mitt Romney’s struggle to win over Republican primary voters.

Hart asked the 12 Republican primary voters in the group who Romney would be if he were a member of their family. Their responses — “black sheep,” “fun neighbor,” “cousin,” “second cousin,” and “dad that was never home” — reflect Romney’s inability to connect with voters on a personal level. Along the same lines, when asked which candidate they would want to serve as a character witness if they were in trouble, just one Republican named Romney.

In contrast, when the voters were asked the same question about Newt Gingrich, they responded “grandfather,” “father,” “my favorite uncle,” and “uncle who keeps bringing home different wives.” The last response notwithstanding, the results suggest that that the voters feel more of a personal bond with Gingrich than they do with Romney.

When asked what their concerns about Romney were, the Republicans listed “not strong enough,” “RINO [Republican In Name Only,]” “wishy-washy,” and “RomneyCare.” These negatives show that Romney opponents who have tried to paint the former Massachusetts governor as an untrustworthy flip-flopper have succeeded, at least to some degree.

The respondents did have some positive thoughts about Romney. When asked to list his strengths, they responded “moral character,” “strong leader,” “rolls up his sleeves,” and “role model.” These positives give Romney a favorable contrast with Gingrich, whose negatives are “morals,” “marriages,” “same ole ballgame,” and being “careless and combustible” according to the focus group.

Indeed, although the focus group members favored Gingrich over Romney by a seven to five margin in a head to head match-up, Romney cannot be counted out yet. Hart told NBC that Romney could be compared to Richard Nixon in 1968, saying that voters see Romney as having “no passion, but [being] smart, competent enough to be president.”

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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