Mitt Romney's standing in the presidential preference polls with Barack Obama surprises top Republicans who felt he would start the general election well behind the sitting president, not dead even.

"All of us on the Republican side are pleased where we are in the presidential election," said GOP strategist and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. He suggested that 1980 was the presumed model when Ronald Reagan was 15 percentage points behind former President Jimmy Carter and some in the party were trying to draft former President Gerald Ford to run again.

"A lot of us anticipated that while Romney wouldn't be behind 15 points, would start off behind," said Barbour.

Paul Bedard, The Examiner's Washington Secrets columnist, can be contacted at His column appears each weekday in the Politics section and on