While the GOP primary battle moves full steam ahead, local political observers and Republican lawmakers agreed this week that Gov. Mitt Romney is likely to face President Barack Obama in November.

Experts and Republican lawmakers from the Inland Empire said Romney has what top contender Newt Gingrich doesn't have electability.

"Newt Gingrich is among the most deeply unpopular politicians in the United States outside of the Republican base," Claremont McKenna College professor Jack Pitney said. "Very few people like him, and even within the Republican Party (those) that know him, like him the least."

Pitney said the former Massachusetts governor has an advantage over his opponents because he has "a lot of money, and positions that are broadly acceptable to the Republican Party, and yet they could also be acceptable to a general electorate as well."

"Romney is a flawed candidate, and we saw that this week with his comment on poverty," Pitney said of a gaffe in which Romney told CNN, "I'm not concerned about the very poor."

"He has problems, but compared with the utterly unelectable Gingrich, he looks pretty good," Pitney said.

Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, who stumped for Texas Gov. Rick Perry in Iowa, is now supporting Romney since Perry dropped out of the race. Hagman said he's in talks with Romney's camp to stump for the candidate.

"I think Mitt Romney has more favorability against Obama head to head," Hagman said. "I think Republicans will rally around him. He has a very strong network and the bottom line is he's been focused on the issues residents care about.


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He's a job creator and a creator of economic growth."

Hagman said he thinks "Newt has great ideas," but added Gingrich has never won a statewide contest, and he's always been in Congress.

"He's never been in the executive branch, and that may give Mitt some advantages as well," Hagman said.

Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa, said he was impressed with Romney because he's reached out to California.

"I've talked to Romney and he was very cordial," Cook said. "I know he's not going to take California, but it's a huge state. We have other Republicans, and he said he would be out here to support local candidates and that meant a lot to me. He was the only one that had committed to California and most people write it off."

Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said the race is Romney's to lose after his success in Florida.

"I've supported Romney from the very beginning, even before Gingrich finally got into it, and one of the reasons was Romney actually called me and talked to me. I met Gingrich three or four years ago, and I haven't heard from him since then. I feel Mitt has been working very hard, and he's the right person at the right time."

Political science professor Renee Van Vechten of the University of Redlands said she believed Romney was likely to take the nomination.

"My sense right now is that Romney will come out the winner," Van Vechten said. "Slow and steady wins the race, but he also has the faith of the Republican establishment. Gingrich doesn't, and in the end, that matters."

Pitney said Obama's chance for re-election in November will depend on the economy.

"The big determinant will be the economy," he said. "If the economy is looking pretty good, then Obama wins. If not, then he loses."

Reach Neil via email, call him at 909-483-9356, or find him on Twitter @InlandGov.