The more people see and hear Mitt Romney, the more comfortable they become with him. This simple fact is behind Romney's surging in the polls to draw even with the president.
And it has party politicos starting to believe in him:
Interviews with about two dozen Republican elected officials, aides, strategists and lobbyists reveal a newfound optimism that with a competent, on-message campaign, Romney will be at least competitive with a weakened incumbent. That's a dramatic shift from the fatalistic view many party stalwarts shared mere weeks ago.
"Romney is a lot better off than I expected him to be this quickly," said former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour,, who cast a primary vote for Newt Gingrich. "A lot of people were concerned that Romney, with his being the least conservative of all the Republican candidates, was going to have to work hard to unite the party - that he would have a serious sales job on his hands. But President Obama has apparently taken care of that for him."
Barbour said that after a gaffe-filled primary, he expected a bruised Romney "to start down but hopefully not by double digits.
"But that he's this close has surprised and encouraged me - and I think it has encouraged Republicans around the country."
The pros lost sight of the fact that most conservatives want to defeat Barack Obama far more than they ever wanted to beat John Kerry or Al Gore. Romney - for all his faults - has become the vessel for their hopes and it is likely they will turn out in very large numbers for him. Social conservatives will swallow their dislike of Romney's Mormonism and turn out for the candidate as well.
The GOP is far more united than it was with McCain as a candidate. And if Romney can deliver a good mesage, there's no reason for the voters not to elect him and plenty of reasons to throw out Obama.