By Dick Morris on December 6, 2011

As the first caucuses and primaries approach, Rasmussen has Gingrich opening up a very significant lead over Mitt Romney (38-17 percent) among primary voters nationally. But, at the same time, Republicans tend to feel that Romney is the more electable of the two.

Asked in the Fox News poll of mid-November, who would have the best chance of beating Obama, Republican primary voters said Romney had the best chance by 37-18 over Gingrich. In a national sample, the Fox News poll validates this perception. Running against Obama, Romney leads by two points – 44-42 – while Gingrich trails by six – 46-40.

Primary voters cast their ballots with their heads and their hearts. Clearly, the hearts are tending toward Newt – for decades the stalwart warrior for conservative values – while their heads tend toward Mitt who they see has having the best chance of winning.

Indeed, the very qualities that make him a hard sell in the primaries – his past support of abortion rights, gay civil unions, and Romneycare in Massachusetts – give him access to Independents in the general election. While Newt can be painted as a right wing extremist by the Obama PR machine, Romney would defy such classification.

So which will prevail? Republican hearts or Republican heads as the GOP voters choose?

A lot depends on Obama. The stronger he appears, the more Republicans may opt for Mitt. The more he seems to be beatable by anyone, the more their hearts will lead them to Gingrich.

Part of Newt’s problem is that Mitt Romney is perceived as much more likeable by Republican primary voters. Asked who was the most likeable in the mid-November poll, 26% said Romney, 25% said Cain was, and only 9% opted for Gingrich (8% liked Perry and 6% liked Bachmann best).

All these elements – likeability, electability, and issue positioning – go into voting decisions, but the gaps among the candidates in these crucial measurements indicate that the results are far from set in stone and that great volatility is still very likely.

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