TAMPA, Fla. -- The conservative faithful who make up the base of the Republican Party still don't like Mitt Romney very much, but Democrats are kidding themselves if they think that will matter at all in November.
The reasons have very little to do with Romney, a former pro-choice governor of Massachusetts who nevertheless managed to emerge from his party's fractious field of White House aspirants, backed by deeper pockets than his opponents.
So why will people -- grassroots conservatives who know Romney's past -- work hard for a man who once described himself as a progressive?
"That's a real good question," said Peggy Dau, of Bartlesville, Okla., who spoke to The Huffington Post at a "Patriots for Romney" rally organized by someone they really do like -- Rick Santorum.
The answers given by Dau and other staunch conservatives who would have preferred a different standard-bearer offer a glimpse into a mindset that, though liberals might find it somewhat disturbing, is nevertheless built on a foundation of faith, family, loyalty, community spirit and all-around decency. Their perception is that they are under assault, that other people want to destroy the world they have built, or take it away.
Bolstered in their belief by relentless persuasion of the right's paid political professionals, they are afraid they will lose the "fight." That fear is focused squarely on President Barack Obama. And it doesn't matter that Mitt Romney might not be a genuine conservative in their eyes.
"At the end of the day, we're still Republicans and we've gotta get Obama out of there," said Donna Cosmello, of New Milford, Pa.
"Anybody's better than Obama," said Rosie Gaetano, of Scranton, Pa. "Obama must go. OMG. Not 'Oh my God.' Obama. Must. Go!"
It's not just partisan fervor. It's bone-deep. They truly believe they're under siege.
Still, faced with a reporter employed by one often caricatured as a demon of the left, Arianna Huffington, they are not hostile. They are open and friendly and frank. And they neatly delineate the world into the broad factions that they see engaged in the battle.
"I heard a poll that said married, white, family values, spiritual values, are the people more going for Romney," said Peggy Dau, of Bartlesville, Okla. "On the other side -- and this is just the way it is -- are single parents, more minorities, more non-religious people who want Obama."
Dau, who backed Michele Bachmann before settling on Santorum, puts herself solidly in the values camp, which makes her and others like her motivated Romney voters.
"People who followed Rick Santorum were probably very strong on family values, on faith values, and Obama is at the opposite in his legislation," she said, careful to not make her opposition personal. "I will give him credit, he's got a family and they are intact."
But she still believes the president is ruining the country.
"Women want to be secure in how their kids are going to have a better education, they want to know if they can get jobs, they want to know that their country is going to keep growing," Dau said. "They don't want to live in a country that's going toward the Bangladeshian. I mean, I feel sorry for those people, but we don't want to be them. And Obama is going in that direction in every way."
Those ways, she said, include everything from divisiveness, racial tension, and the political climate to the economy and even the price of gas.
"It's double, more than double," said Gaetano, nodding her head at Dau's assessments.
"We are going down," Dau said. "Everything is going down."
No wonder it doesn't matter that Mitt isn't really their man.
Team Romney has managed to take some steps to help the base like him better. One was the deft performance by Ann Romney at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Tuesday.
"Oh, she hit one right out of the park. She made him human," said Cosmello. "I think as the days go on and the people get to know more about Mitt Romney, he's going to appeal more."
Another step that's working for Romney is his false charge that Obama has gutted the work requirements for welfare -- an assertion that plays well with people who are suspicious of those getting government assistance.
"If you look at the Asian population after Vietnam, a lot them came over here, and they worked like crazy," Dau said.
"They wanted freedom," Gaetano said.
"Not the people that are born here, that live on the system, perpetuate it," continued Dau. "And we can't sustain it."
Larry Gallow, of Tulsa, Okla., predicted that the surge in people needing food stamps and other aid since the start of the financial meltdown in 2007 and 2008 would make Obama especially unpopular.
"One of the things that's going to really hit Obama bad is that with the welfare, all of this, so many people in entitlements right now -- the middle class, who he terms as the middle class, who are out there working every day, they're resentful of the fact that they are put into this class, and they're resentful that there are a lot of people who could be working who are not working," said Gallow, who believes the president has deliberately swelled the ranks of the needy.
"So that's going to backfire on him," Gallow said. "There are actually a whole lot of people out here who are working very hard to take care of themselves and their family, and he said here's free cell phones, here's free food stamps. They don't want that. These people have pride, and that's what that man is trying to take away from these people -- pride. They are taking away pride from the American citizen."
"He wants to give these entitlements because the more entitlements you get, the more he controls, the more the government controls you, and that's his goal," Gaetano said.
The pick of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as a running mate has also helped: a point made at the Romney rally held by longtime evangelical activist Ralph Reed.
"I believe that he has provided as big a booster rocket to this ticket as Sarah Palin did four years ago in Minneapolis," Reed said. "I think it's deeply revealing of Mitt Romney's character. It says a lot about who Mitt Romney is that he had the judgment, the guts, and the intestinal fortitude to pick somebody like Paul Ryan."
Cindy Frich, a Santorum delegate from Morgantown, W.Va., said she liked the fact that the former Pennsylvania senator was now pushing for Romney. But after that, she had to think hard about whether she liked anything about the man himself.
"Anything about Mitt Romney? Besides Paul Ryan?" She said. "I'm hoping he will support fiscally conservative policies."
But it doesn't really matter that conservatives aren't crazy about Romney, because his opponent is Obama.
"All presidents -- we don't agree with them all the time -- but deep down, they all loved this country. I don't think this man even likes this country," Gaetano said, referring to Obama.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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