Crossover appeal. Huntsman, Pawlenty, and Romney all won statewide elections by performing better than the party normally does in each state. In 2008 Jon Huntsman won 64 percent of the gubernatorial vote in Utah (an improvement on his performance relative to 2004), while John McCain won 62 percent of the presidential vote that same year. Tim Pawlenty won reelection in Minnesota in 2006 narrowly, but this was still an impressive feat considering that Minnesota retains a blue tilt and 2006 was a terrible year for Republicans in general. T-Paw won about 100,000 more votes that the Republican candidates in the 8 Minnesota House districts that year, and 200,000 more votes than Mark Kennedy, the GOP candidate for the open Senate seat. In 2002, Mitt Romney won a comfortable, five point victory in Massachusetts, despite the fact that his party is so weak in the Bay State that it ran just 4 candidates in the 10 House districts that year.
In other words, all three have demonstrated an ability to pull in voters who have previously backed Democrats, which is a requirement if the GOP is going to win the presidency back next year. ~Jay Cost
Of all the arguments in favor of the three “main contenders,” the one that they have meaningful crossover appeal has to be the weakest. How did Romney win a “comfortable, five-point victory in Massachusetts”? He won by running as a Northeastern moderate, which is not at all how he intends to run next year. That is Romney’s bind. The more he resembles his former moderate self, the less chance he has of winning the nomination, but his main claim to electability is from his time as a Northeastern moderate. Except for the 2008 primaries, he hasn’t faced voters as a conservative candidate, and the results from 2008 open primaries don’t show tremendous ability to draw in attract non-Republicans. Pawlenty eked out a plurality re-election win in a three-way race in which his DFL challenger imploded in dramatic fashion near the end of the race. According to the CNN exit poll, he won just 43% of independents in his re-election bid. Compared to how House Republicans did in the Midwest in 2006, that is only marginally better.
Winning 64% for re-election in Utah as a Republican is about as meaningful as Bill Richardson’s re-election numbers from 2006 in New Mexico. Mostly what it means is that Utah is an overwhelmingly Republican and Republican-leaning state. In fact, according to Gallup’s numbers, Utah was the most strongly Republican state in the country in 2009 with 53% identifying as Republicans and 30% identifying as Democrats. If a former Democratic governor of Massachusetts or Hawaii had run slightly ahead of Kerry in 2004, we wouldn’t claim that it was because they had significant “crossover appeal.” We would say that it is because they have the luxury of running and governing in states with very hospitable political atmospheres.