A Quick, Dirty Rundown On The State Of The 2012 Race

1) Mitt Romney: Bachmann was a top tier candidate and she folded. Perry rocketed into first place and has now dropped back to third in most polls. Cain shot up from back of the pack to the top tier. All the while, Romney remained right near the top. Moreover, he’s looking extremely strong in New Hampshire, and it’s not out of the question that he could win Iowa and New Hampshire, which might give him enough momentum to wrap the race up early.

Why he should worry: The GOP primary voters know Romney very well and they’re clearly not sold on him. There are a lot of primary voters, probably even a majority right now, who are desperately looking for an alternative to Romney and if they settle on a candidate they think is acceptable, it’s entirely possible Mitt could end up being swamped.

2) Herman Cain: Herman Cain has moved up into the top tier on the strength of a Florida straw poll win, charisma, and voters who are looking to an alternative to Rick Perry after a poor debate performance.

Why he should worry: Cain has never been elected to office before and he’s a very raw candidate. He has made gaffes and will continue to make them. Moreover, because he hasn’t been a serious contender until now, he hasn’t been drawing attacks, nor has his record been seriously scrutinized. That’s going to happen now and whether Cain can roll with the punches and keep rising is unknown.

3) Rick Perry: Perry’s numbers plunged after a terrible debate performance where he looked sleepy, over-prepped, and came across badly on illegal immigration. On the other hand, he had a great fund raising quarter, he’s still the most plausible alternative to Romney, he now has illegal immigration positions that are acceptable to the base, and the bar could not be set lower for him going into next week’s debate. If he can turn in a good performance, it’s entirely possible that he could get right back in the hunt in a hurry.

Why he should worry: Perry has been under non-stop attack since he got into the race and he was slower than he should have been to define himself on illegal immigration. Moreover, although Rick Perry is a much better debater than he showed last time around, there is a danger that if he bombs again next week, people could start to write him off. He’s still in the race and could very well be the nominee, but with the first primary coming up soon, he needs to up his game a bit.

Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum: Bachmann had her turn in the top tier, went way over the top on a few issues, most particularly Gardasil, and deflated. Gingrich and Santorum have both had their moments, but it’s hard to see either of them generating enough momentum to move into the top tier. Still, given that the field looks to be set and the base seems to still be desperately looking for an “anti-Romney” candidate to coalesce around, there’s an outside shot that one of these candidates could catch lightning in a bottle. Is it likely? No, but it’s probably not impossible.

Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, & Jon Huntsman: Paul and Johnson are too libertarian for the base and Huntsman just isn’t conservative enough. So, all three men may have their fans, but it would take a miracle for any of them to generate enough support to capture the nomination.

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