Brian Snyder /Reuters /Landov
Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney still has some work to do with conservative voters. Chris O'Brien, state grass-roots organizer for former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, holds a sign reading "Convince Me!" outside a Romney campaign stop in Hartford, Conn., on April 11.
Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney still has some work to do with conservative voters. Chris O'Brien, state grass-roots organizer for former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, holds a sign reading "Convince Me!" outside a Romney campaign stop in Hartford, Conn., on April 11. Brian Snyder /Reuters /Landov
There's been hand-wringing in some Republican quarters since Rick Santorum dropped out of the race for the party's presidential nomination, leaving an open path for Mitt Romney to take on President Obama in the fall.
How will Romney bring around the party's skeptical evangelical base? What work does he need to do within the party as he pivots to a full-on general election battle with Obama?
For advice, we called on politicos who perhaps know candidate Romney, the 2012 version, best: those who worked for and advised some of his opponents in the as-good-as-over race for the GOP crown.
Their nearly uniform don't-look-back suggestions don't discount Romney's need to bring his base along for the ride. But if the former Massachusetts governor can prove he can compete hard against the president — and better than GOP nominee Sen. John McCain did in 2008 — the votes, they predict, will be there come fall.
Here's what they told us:
Don't 'Go Down That Rat Hole.' Jim Innocenzi of Sandler-Innocenzi, an adviser to Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign, advises Romney not to get distracted by side issues like contraception.
"The primary's in the rearview mirror. I'm sure that those [Romney] guys are now focused on Obama just like Obama is focusing on them. That's the smartest thing to do. If you pick up and listen to some of the conservative talk folks, they may not be as thrilled with Romney as someone else, but they're less thrilled with Obama.
"I'm not one to say that the sky is falling — there are some out there who are nervous Nellies about everything. There are problems, yes, and I don't mean to minimize them, but there are issues Romney can use to his advantage. Like the economy, jobs. The fundamental hurdle is not to be distracted by issues that don't matter, like contraceptives. If they go down that rat hole, they have a problem.
"All those people are welcome in the Romney tent. He's not going to stiff them, not going to give them the Heisman."
'If You Build It, The Base Will Come.' Chris Allen, national political director for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's presidential campaign, says die-hard conservatives will mobilize behind Romney to defeat President Obama.
"Gov. Romney has an incredible team who [have] been preparing for several years to take on the president — now that the rest of the Republican field is out of the way, it is time to adhere to their original game plan for November.
"I think that conservative skepticism will naturally and quickly fall away now that Gov. Romney will be the nominee. The choice all along this cycle to far-right conservatives has been between a nominee they agree 100 percent with who has almost no chance in the general, or a nominee that they can agree 80 percent with who has the ability to appeal to independents and actually win in November.
"At this point, it is a 'if you build it, the base will come' mentality — whether they are 100 percent behind you or not, what is clear is that they are focused on defeating the president. Now that the dust is settling, it is hard for me to imagine a day when a die-hard conservative doesn't walk into that voting booth this November and vote against the president."
Go 'Nose To Nose' With Obama. Craig Murphy of San Jacinto Public Affairs in Austin, which advised the Perry presidential campaign, says taking on the president will help eliminate conservative concerns.
"He can now focus on Obama, on going nose-to-nose with Obama. That's what the conservative base wants anyway. The more effective he is at doing that, the more they're going to like him.
"Going to conservatives and saying 'I'm not as bad as I once was' is just not going to work. That strategy would make no sense to anyone. What do conservatives want? They want him to defeat Obama.
"The Republican primary has a very conservative base of people, and essentially he has won. We just happened to have started in the field with a series of polls in parts of Texas, and Romney is crushing everyone else — we'd never seen anyone with more than 50 percent, even with Perry in the field. Romney is now breaking 60 in different parts of the state.
"If he's blowing everybody out in Texas, which is one of the most conservative states, then he's made his case successfully and now needs to generate enthusiasm for November by standing up to Obama and intellectually challenging him on the issues. If there was a knock on him during the primaries, it was that we don't need another McCain. As he demonstrates that he can engage Obama, and challenge him effectively, that will eliminate the last remaining concerns among some conservatives."
Convince Americans On Key Issues. J.D. Gordon, spokesman for the presidential campaign of former pizza company CEO Herman Cain, says Romney should prove he can handle key factors like the unemployment rate, gas prices and health care.
"Gov. Romney is in good shape heading into the general election. He has essentially wrapped up the nomination two months earlier in the process than President Obama did in 2008.
"He can focus his full attention on comparing and contrasting his vision for America with President Obama's record over the past three years.
"As we've seen throughout the GOP primary process, national polls change often. Therefore I wouldn't say that President Obama has any advantage at this point in time.
"Key factors in the November election will be the national unemployment rate, gas prices, the fate of Obamacare, and a wide variety of national security-related crises that may come up between now and then. As long as Gov. Romney can convince Americans that he will do a better job than President Obama on these issues, he has an excellent chance of becoming our president."