While former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney continues to be considered the likely GOP nominee by the majority of the talking heads and the other candidates are seen as battling for the anti-Romney vote, Texas Congressman Ron Paul continues to have strong grass-roots support across the country.
While this campaign has seen Romney consistently atop the GOP polls, he has not been able to build momentum and seems stuck in the 23-28 percent range, which indicates that a large number of Republicans do not want to support his effort.
Due to Romney’s inability to build support beyond his base, there has been a series of candidates that moved to the top as the anti-Romney candidate and each has fallen under the added scrutiny of being a front-runner. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is now the leader of the pack in a number of polls in the early voting states of Iowa (caucus), New Hampshire (first primary state) and South Carolina and, while many consider this only temporary, the reality is that Gingrich is in a better position than the other candidates were when they held the lead. There are a number of differences with Gingrich’s position now relative to the positions of his competitors at the time they held the top spot.
Gingrich has already been through his toughest moments in the campaign (mass staff defections and lack of funding) and has maintained a consistent message that has continued to build support. Gingrich is also considered by most to be the most knowledgeable on the widest variety of issues of all those vying for the GOP nomination. His recent statement concerning illegal immigration, while seen as harmful by the farther right in the Republican party, will actually be a plus if he makes it to the general election. Unlike those that have vaulted to the lead only to fall back, Gingrich has steadily built momentum.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was the first to benefit from the anti-Romney movement. She reached the mid-30 percent range, based almost entirely on her TEA Party support, only to drop to the 4 percent range. Next was Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry entered the race at the top (35%) after much anticipation only to fall to single digits after a month of missteps combined with poor debate performances; Herman Cain was the third to take the top spot (also reached mid 30-percent range) and his run lasted almost two months, longer than the others were able to hold the top slot. While accusations of sexual harassment no doubt contributed to his fall, the larger factor was his poor showing in both the National Security and Foreign Policy debates.
Former governor Jon Huntsman and former Senator Santorum have never been able to build momentum and both are in the low single digits (Huntsman has gained some traction in New Hampshire polling where he is now nearing double digits) and cannot be considered as threats to the top tier.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul is the only candidate that has shown he has a solid base (the 18-25% range) as well as the ability to build support. Paul has won straw polls including California and Illinois and is currently fourth in Iowa (based on a composite of seven recent polls) with Gingrich in first (22.7%) and Cain and Romney virtually even (17%). Paul (13%) is close enough in Iowa that he could finish second.
With only six weeks to go before the caucuses in Iowa, it is legitimate to believe that Gingrich may hold on to the top spot. With the lack of an organized ground game from both the Cain and Romney camps and the fact that Paul has a very strong grass roots operation (across the country-not just in Iowa), it is a very real possibility that Paul could move into the second position heading to New Hampshire.
In New Hampshire, Paul is currently third in the majority of polls behind Romney and Gingrich with Huntsman and Cain filling out the top five. A top three finish by Paul in Iowa will provide the momentum to garner another top-three finish in New Hampshire.
By the time the voting moves to South Carolina, Gingrich and Paul could very well have the momentum while Romney may have suffered the most from results in Iowa and New Hampshire. Cain currently holds a one-point lead (21%-20%) over Gingrich in South Carolina with Romney in third. Paul is sixth now (4%), trailing Perry (7%) and virtual even with Bachmann (4.3%) with Huntsman (2%) and Santorum (1.3%) but with the possibility that two or three candidates currently in the chase will be gone by South Carolina, Paul has the chance to finish third behind Cain and Gingrich. At worse, Paul should finish fourth behind Romney.
Based on the current polls as well as the mood on the ground in the early states, it is plausible that Gingrich will have won Iowa, finished second in New Hampshire (with the possibility of a win in N.H. based on the push from The Union Leader endorsement) and won or finished second in South Carolina.
Perry has a legitimate possibility of leaving South Carolina with three top-three finishes.
Based on this scenario, it is not unreasonable to believe that after South Carolina the GOP top three could be Gingrich, Romney and Paul with Cain (after a strong showing in South Carolina and a respectable top four finish in Iowa) and Perry the only remaining options.
Bachmann should be out by South Carolina after poor showings in both Iowa and N.H. while Huntsman and Santorum will be even less relevant than they are now after poor results in the early states.
While the Republican Party continues to ignore the very real threat that Paul presents, voters becoming ever more disgusted with the “business-as-usual” attitude of the party are taking notice.
The source for polling information for this article was provided by Real Clear Politics
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