What's behind Mitt Romney 2016 speculation?

Here we go again. Another poll adding to the feeding frenzy over a possible third Mitt Romney run for the White House.

While the 2012 Republican presidential nominee's repeatedly said he's not running again, the attention such speculation captures is a sign at the moment of the wide open nature of the next GOP nomination race.

"Think about it, we're still closer to the last presidential election than the next one. So until some of these other potential candidates have more time to really begin campaigning in earnest, I think Romney will continue to be top of mind for a lot of average voters," South Carolina GOP consultant Joel Sawyer, senior VP of the Republican digital firm Push Digital, told CNN.

GOP strategist Kevin Madden, who was a senior adviser in Romney's 2008 and 2012 campaigns spoke to the issue.

"The interest is driven by those who believe, very deeply, that he would have been a very effective president and that he has been proven right on so many issues and ideas that he advanced in the 2012 campaign," he said.

"But conceptual candidacies are very enticing, almost irresistible. Actual candidacies are cold, hard realities. There's a universe of differences between the two," Madden, a CNN contributor, added.

Romney's numbers adding up

The latest survey to generate buzz: A WMUR/Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire. The survey, released Thursday night, indicated that Romney would be the overwhelming front runner in the first-in-the-nation primary state if he decided to run again. Thirty-nine percent of likely GOP primary voters there said they'd support Romney, with the potential 2016 Republican White House hopefuls now in the mix all in single digits.

It's the second-straight poll to indicate Romney would be the frontrunner in New Hampshire. Last month a Suffolk University/Boston Herald survey indicated that 24% of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP said that Romney would be their first choice, far ahead of the rest of the field.

While the surveys are making headlines, it's important to remember that Romney's very well known in New Hampshire. He owns a vacation home in the state, has often appeared at GOP events in New Hampshire, and was a governor of neighboring Massachusetts. Romney easily won the state's 2012 Republican primary, but lost the state by 6 percentage points to President Barack Obama in the general election.

The first poll to spark the Romney 2016 flames was an ABC News/Washington Post national survey last November suggesting Romney would hold a slight lead in the popular vote, if the 2012 election between Romney and Obama were held at that time. Obama won the popular vote in the last election, 51%-47%.

The flames were further fanned last week when voters nationwide questioned in a Quinnipiac University poll said by a 45%-38% margin that the country would be better off if Romney had won.

Besides generating buzz, the polls have peaked the interest of some major Republican donors.

An adviser close to Romney told CNN that he received a bunch of calls last month in the hour following the release of the Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll, from donors who contributed to the 2012 Romney campaign.

Spencer Zwick, the campaign finance chairman for Romney's 2008 and 2012 efforts, recently told CNN that he thinks the polls create "a hope and interest from a lot of those donors who would have loved to have seen Romney become president but are hopeful there may be a shot in the future."

"It started a few months ago with donors saying 'do you think there's any shot,' to donors now saying 'how do we convince him to do it.' Which is kind of interesting because they have heard Governor Romney say 'I'm not planning on doing this again' and I think some of these donors don't want to take no for an answer," Zwick added.

No, No, No

Romney's been very clear on the subject.

"The answer is no, I'm not running for president in 2016. It's time for someone else to take that responsibility and I'll be supporting our nominee," he told Wolf Blitzer in February on CNN's "The Situation Room."

He's been using the same "I'm not running" language over and over again. And Romney's wife, Ann, has also been adamant against it.

With just about every national and state poll indicating that the next GOP presidential nomination battle remains a wide open affair with no frontrunner among the potential contenders, it's no wonder that many Republicans still look to Romney.

"There are many people like me who would support Governor Romney if he decided to run again, but ultimately I believe he will find other ways to serve our country and the GOP in 2016," said veteran New Hampshire GOP consultant Jim Merrill, who was a top adviser to Romney in the Granite State in the 2008 and 2012.

Since his latest defeat, Romney's taken on the role of Republican elder statesman, in hopes of helping shape the future of the party. Since late last year, he's made a bunch of endorsements -- all

successful -- in a number of GOP primary battles.

But Madden says there's a reason Romney's been "crystal clear" about not running again: "He knows how even that speculation has a negative impact on the prospective field. It holds up donors, it holds up volunteers and staff."

What if Romney had won

Another reason for the Romney renaissance may be "buyer's remorse," or in the case of Republicans who voted against Obama, an "I told you so" sentiment.

"The rising interest in Romney is because Republicans feel that President Obama is badly managing our country while it is in the middle of some serious foreign and domestic challenges. Romney is viewed by some as a competent former CEO who could bring stability and direction to the White House," said GOP consultant Ron Bonjean, who has been a top strategist and adviser to House and Senate Republican leaders.

"It's no surprise that Americans are wondering 'what if' Mitt Romney had been elected president as they watch President Obama stumble from one crisis to the next," added Merrill.

And part of it is just timing, plain and simple.

"There's a lot of buyer's remorse with Obama, and I think Romney's name pops to the top of the list because not long ago, he was out there running a national campaign," said Sawyer.

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