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Posted at 12:52 PM ET, 01/31/2012

Florida primary predictions: Where will candidates place, and will Gingrich or Santorum drop out?

Everyone is saying Romney will win the Republican Florida primary Tuesday night — but by how much, and will the result convince anyone to exit the race? If not, what’s next? We asked PostOpinions columnists, bloggers and editors how the candidates will stack up in Florida, and what that means for the rest of the GOP race. Read their predictions below and vote in our reader poll at the end of the post.

JONATHAN BERNSTEIN

Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul. Romney wins big and essentially wraps it up, although odds are that Gingrich will fight on through Super Tuesday. Santorum has no reason to stay in any longer and will most likely drop out sooner rather than later.

RICHARD COHEN

In the Republican contest, Romney’s got the money. He’s got the organization. It is only a matter of time. This is the end for Gingrich. He will come in second in Florida — no big deal, actually. He will place ahead of Santorum, who, after all, runs only on the vapors of his own conviction, and Paul, a man who addresses economic insecurities by citing the 10th Amendment. This field is not merely weak, it is just plain odd. Romney will steadily leave it behind. Gingrich will fight on for a while — waging guerrilla warfare on the Sunday shows — but this race is essentially over. Probably.

Read the rest of Richard Cohen’s analysis here.

E.J. DIONNE JR.

Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul. I devoutly hope my prediction is wrong, because this is about the most boring outcome possible. (The most likely error, however, is a minor one: that Paul passes the underfunded Santorum for third place.) The buzz is that Santorum is the likely next dropout, which would be too bad. He appears to have lower negatives than Romney and Gingrich. With some money, he might have sneaked past them as they bashed each other mercilessly. But, sadly, money rules, and Santorum doesn’t seem to have enough to stay in for long. One other prediction: Something will happen to make fools of the pundits again.

JAMES DOWNIE

The numbers don’t favor going out on a limb, so “Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul” it is. No one will drop out tonight, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Gingrich or Santorum pulls a Huntsman and drops out in a few days. With his daughter’s illness and smaller ego, Santorum is the more likely of two, though I expect he’ll wait to see how many conservatives return to him as the not-Romney candidate. As for Gingrich, his money hasn’t run out just yet. Look for him to stay in through at least one more debate, where he’ll try to pull off the underdog surge yet again. Paul, who wants to make up for the time the media spent ignoring him, will be the last to drop out.

DAVID IGNATIUS

Romney will show he can be Mitt the Knife and scores an important win. Gingrich stumbles to second, pursued by Ghosts of Newt Past, as channeled by Romney super PAC; he will look so angry he may pop. Santorum will nobly take third on sympathy votes for his family troubles, and then he will drop out to care for his daughter. Paul will take fourth and decide to keep the Libertarian Crusade rolling a little longer.

KATHLEEN PARKER

Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul. And nobody drops out — yet. Romney will win, not because of his negative ads but at least partly because of a sophisticated early-voting operation. There have been 503,000 absentee ballots requested in Florida by GOP primary voters, 200,000 more than four years ago. Romney had a program of mail pieces, chaser calls, and, in some counties, door-knockers to get those folks to vote for him. This was a highly sophisticated and fairly expensive effort run by Florida GOP operatives who are experts at this program. It was first developed for Jeb Bush and has been perfected in the years since. Early voting is worth 5 percent, which is enough to win.

What happens next is a tough call. Even though Santorum is out of serious play and low on funds, he’s not likely to give up yet. Eventually, of course, he runs out of money. As Jody Powell used to say, you don’t beat presidential candidates, you bankrupt them. My best guess is he will try to hang on through the Conservative Political Action Conference (Feb. 9-11) and the Feb. 7 Missouri and Minnesota caucuses to see if he can pull an upset. Also, staying in helps keep him on the list of possible vice presidential candidates.

Gingrich and Paul will stay in because they both can raise money online. And Newt presumably will still have his billionaire casino donor, Sheldon Adelson, who along with his wife recently gave $10 million to Gingrich’s super PAC.

ALEXANDRA PETRI

Romney first. Many elderly Americans depend upon robotic caretakers, and Romney is extremely lifelike and knows all the verses of “America the Beautiful.” Gingrich second, in spite of all his pandering to the moon base. Santorum third. Paul fourth, since he is too busy scooping up votes from the hardier elderly in Maine.

EUGENE ROBINSON

Romney wins big, largely because he dominates in the early vote, much of which was cast before the Gingrich surge. Gingrich does better than expected but probably can’t cut the margin to single digits. Santorum is a surprisingly strong third. Paul is toast.

JENNIFER RUBIN

Romney will win by double digits, completing a remarkable about-face. Santorum will come in third, at least within shouting distance of Gingrich. Paul will finish last, most likely in single digits. No one will drop out quite yet, but the win will give Romney a head of steam heading into the Nevada caucuses Saturday and the rest of the February contests. During February, the hard-core base will have to decide if it’s time, or too late, to jump ship from Gingrich to Santorum in one final effort to stop Romney’s march to the nomination.

STEPHEN STROMBERG

Like no doubt everyone else, I’ll predict Romney, then Gingrich. Santorum, who is about tied with Paul in the polls, will nevertheless beat Paul, in part because he left the campaign trail to attend to his sick daughter. Neither Gingrich nor Santorum will drop out following the vote. But they might wish they had during a February calendar that includes two states in which Romney is (kind of) a native son — Michigan and Nevada — and no real Southern states. Not that Republicans will be happy about Romney’s ascendance after the former Massachusetts governor delivers another awkward victory speech tonight. I’ll also go out on a limb and predict that Paul will give a rambling, barely coherent and over-long jeremiad of a primary-night speech about his wacky libertarian idealism, the lost city of El Dorado and all its specie, or whatever else he happens to think up along the way, but the networks will still give him all the airtime he wants.

MARC THIESSEN

Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul. While Romney risks turning off some voters by spiking the ball before he’s in the end zone, it looks like he will win a commanding double-digit victory in today’s Florida primary. Romney went after Gingrich at both Florida debates and with ads highlighting his fall from the House speakership and his ties to Freddie Mac. As he slid in the polls, Gingrich responded by reverting to the tactics that almost lost him South Carolina — attacking Romney’s work at Bain.

All this makes it more likely that Santorum will stay in the race, despite the poor showing he will likely post today. He believes, with good reason, that Gingrich is falling out of favor on the right, and that he is positioned to pick up the mantle of conservative alternative to Romney. And Ron Paul isn’t going anywhere.

Read the rest of Marc Thiessen’s analysis here.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL

Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul. The only one I see possibly dropping out is Santorum. Paul is indefatigable. Because delegates are awarded proportionally in many upcoming primaries, Gingrich could stay in it for a while. But he is an emotionally volatile candidate, who seems to relish campaigning only when he has the wind at his back. In South Carolina he was ebullient; at the last debate in Florida he was glum. It looks like he is going to lose to Romney in Florida among Tea Partyers and conservative Christians, and since they were the bedrock of his support, it’s going to be hard for him to continue to mount a serious challenge.

By PostOpinions Staff  |  12:52 PM ET, 01/31/2012

 
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