Remember the narrative from 2008: Mitt Romney suffered a devastating blow in the Hawkeye State. His millions of dollars spent organizing and advertising were for naught. He allowed an unfunded and unknown upstart named Mike Huckabee to get to his right, and in so doing created room for John McCain to get to his left in New Hampshire.
In 2012, Romney won an effective tie for first place. The conservative, “anti-Romney” vote was spread across four other candidates; Rick Santorum won the most, but still not enough for a clear victory. What’s more, Santorum’s win was due in large part to being the only “unvetted” conservative in the race. He has baggage of his own, little funding, almost no institutional support, and (unlike Huckabee) cannot count on the South embracing him as a native son.
As somebody said earlier today on Twitter, South Carolina isn’t going to embrace a Catholic (Santorum) just to beat a Mormon (Romney). It’s difficult to see where Santorum goes from Iowa, other than down. This is Perry’s time to step up. His last two debates were solid, and by wisely skipping New Hampshire, he gets to concentrate on SC and Florida. Gingrich’s collapse, Bachmann’s exit and Santorum’s lack of regional appeal give Perry a glimmer — a faint glimmer — of hope.
I don’t mention Ron Paul, because as Cost correctly notes, he “remains a libertarian insurgent who cannot win the GOP nomination because he is too far out of step with the modern GOP.”
As for Romney’s path, I sketched that out in a comment to an earlier post:
Early on in the debate cycle, you could see Romney setting up Florida as his Whoever-Wins-Big-In-South-Carolina firewall. But then Cain surged in Florida, and took it away. Then Newt sucked up those voters when Cain imploded. I suspect — suspect — that Romney might still have that Florida firewall.
Coming out of Florida, the process moves to Michigan, Minnesota, Maine and Utah — all of which should be Romney-friendly, assuming he meets expectations in NH and FL holds. Romney might do well in Colorado and Arizona, too, with their biggish Mormon communities.
Then it’s March and Super Tuesday. If it’s not Mitt and Not-Mitt by then, then it’s probably Mitt.
It might be time to rally the Tea Party around Perry in SC and FL, kids, if you want a shot at stopping Romney.