Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign is debating how much of an effort to exert in the Iowa caucuses. On one hand, polls show he's tantalizingly close to the lead. But on the other, there are warning signs that the state that cost Romney so much blood and treasure in the 2008 primary is simply too resistant to his candidacy to ever give him a win.
A new poll, conducted for Bloomberg by the same pollster who surveys Iowans for the Des Moines Register, shows Romney statistically tied for the lead with Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul.
But 58 percent of Iowa voters said they would rule out voting for a candidate if he had favored a mandate to buy health insurance. That's higher than the percentage of Iowa Republicans who would rule out voting for a candidate who's been married three times and has had extramarital affairs (48 percent), or a candidate who has supported the DREAM Act (42 percent) or someone who has worked for the Obama administration (40 percent).
That puts a pretty hard ceiling on the level of support Romney can achieve. In fact, his ceiling probably tops out around 30 percent, based on available evidence -- he hasn't broken 30 in any reliable poll of Iowa voters this year, and he won just 25 percent of the vote when he finished second in 2008.
The question Romney's campaign is wrestling with is, can anyone else beat 25 to 30 percent?