Despite all his seeming frontrunner status, there’s one thing Mitt Romney hasn’t been able to do: Establish any kind of dominance that would actually justify calling him the frontrunner.
To be clear, Romney is certainly a frontrunner — but is he the frontrunner? Now, it is true that Romney was for a long time the highest-rated candidate in the national polls. But in fact, Romney has never managed to escape the mid-20s, and stay there, as the numbers keep going up and down for the other candidates.
As has been noted many times, the Republican contest has gone through a cycle of one candidate or another gaining a sudden, massive amount of support against Romney, only to collapse after a combination of blunders and media scrutiny — see Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain. The big question, then, is whether any candidate will be able to put up a stable anti-Romney front, or if the competition are too flawed, and Romney can take it by default. (Newt Gingrich, you’re now up at bat.) And if Herman Cain should now drop out of the race — he suggested on Tuesday he was ‘reassessing’ things — that could mean a sudden turn to a much rougher road for Romney. The numbers suggest Gingrich would be much more the beneficiary of a Cain departure than Romney.
Granted, Romney has consistently been ahead in one state — New Hampshire, right next door to the state where he was once governor, Massachusetts. But even then, Romney’s leads in New Hampshire have been pluralities, not majorities, with Romney’s own support fluctuating from the mid-30s to the low 40s:
This seems to suggest that Romney could remain vulnerable to a close showing here, if the race lines up with Romney against an anti-Romney candidate. As of the latest polls, Romney is still ahead — but Newt is gaining some steam.
By comparison, the last time Romney ran for president in 2008, he got 32% of the vote in the New Hampshire GOP primary, behind John McCain’s 37%.
Romney has also had problems in Iowa polling, very similar to the national picture — not to mention Christian right activists in the state who don’t like how he has repeatedly snubbed their big events:
And in South Carolina:
For a take on the situation among right-wing activists, Erick Erickson puts it simply: “The race for the GOP nomination is well settled at this point. It is settled in ‘Not Romney’s’ favor. The reason the race is so volatile is that ‘Not Romney’ is not on the ballot making a Romney nomination not just possible, but probable.”
Probable? Compared to any other candidate at the moment, yes. But inevitable?