The problem with Romney was not that American voters scorned his church, but simply that they did not find him authentic. I knew he was in trouble when, in a national survey, people were asked to name the candidate they'd most like to have join them for dinner. Romney ranked dead last. (Barack Obama, the rock star, finished first.)
Issues are one thing, likeability is quite another. Utahns viewed Romney as "one of them", a principled man with a faith-based pedigree. National voters saw him quite differently. They had three choices on the Republican side: a genuine war hero, an aw-shucks smiling southerner who played rock guitar at his appearances--and a businessman who looked like he was born in a Mr. Mac suit.
Amid other charges--his "flip flop" on issues, his attempt to "buy" the nomination with $37 million of his own money, his early attack ads on McCain and Huckabee--Republicans and GOP-leading independent voters had a hard time warming up to him. A Time magazine columnist wrote that Mitt needed a personality. Comedian Bill Maher joked that Romney was a mannequin. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch labeled him a craven "say-anything" opportunist.
As political observers know, perception is more important that reality. Voters perceived the war hero as a guy who could be respected, even if they didn't agree with everything he said.
They saw Mitt as just another politician. Voters wanted a comfortable Hush Puppie loafer, not a stiff shiny dress shoe.
So Huntsman and Shurt-leff made the winning bet, although it might not make any difference in November. If Barack Obama gets the Democratic nomination, any Republican could be toast.