A lot can happen in four days, but as of today, the Florida primary and the GOP presidential race are again Mitt Romney’s to lose.
Nevada’s caucuses are the next contest, held Feb. 4, and Romney won that state by nearly 40 points in 2008. He’s also already up with an ad in the Silver State – further reinforcing that his campaign is just head-and-shoulders above its competitors, both financially and organizationally.
Assuming Romney wins Florida and follows it up by coasting in Nevada, all that’s left before Super Tuesday are a few lower-profile caucuses in early February and the Arizona and Michigan primaries on Feb. 28.
Arizona, like Nevada, has a fair-sized Mormon population and should be a good state for Romney; he lost it by just 12 points in 2008 to home-state senator John McCain and held McCain under 50 percent — a strong showing for Romney given the circumstances. And, of course, Romney has strong ties to Michigan, given that his father was governor of the state.
In other words, there are scant few opportunities for anyone to gain momentum between Florida and Super Tuesday on March 6, and lots of time for whoever might still be in the race to have to keep the pirate ship afloat.
What’s more, a candidate needs lots of money to really compete on Super Tuesday, and while Arizona and Michigan will be big contests and could provide a bump, there’s only a week between them and Super Tuesday — not exactly a lot of time to raise money.
Given the financial problems experienced by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, keeping a campaign alive in the five weeks between Tuesday and Super Tuesday is a daunting task without another victory or game-changing event.
Gingrich, of course, has Sheldon Adelson bankrolling his super PAC to the tune of $10 million, but how much will Adelson be willing to chip in if it’s looking like a lost cause? He’s a billionaire, but even billionaires hate to throw good money after bad.
To the line…
4. Ron Paul: The Texas congressman is relegated to this position mostly because he hasn’t put forth any real effort in Florida. Instead, he’s using a more thrifty, delegate-focused strategy keying on the caucus states early next month. A super PAC supporting his campaign has run some ads here, but mostly Paul is skipping the state. Also, given that it’s a closed primary (i.e. independents can’t vote), Paul’s share of the vote will suffer.
3. Rick Santorum: Santorum passed Paul at Thursday’s debate, turning in one of his strongest performances of the presidential race and making his case for becoming the anti-Romney candidate in the field. If Gingrich falls further, Santorum is really the only alternative for conservative voters, who will either have to move to him or embrace Romney. Still, Santorum hasn’t shown much in the way of momentum, even following his after-the-fact win in Iowa. And Florida isn’t yet looking like it will give him much of a bump.
2. Newt Gingrich: The rollercoaster ride that is the Newt Gingrich presidential campaign appears to be on the downslope right now. Gingrich essentially won in South Carolina thanks to his debate performances, but the Gingrich we saw at the two debates in Florida this week was virtually unrecognizable. And today’s Quinnipiac University poll of the state’s primary confirms what we had suspected; he hasn’t been able to sustain the bump he got from South Carolina.
1. Mitt Romney: The frontrunner is the frontrunner again. Romney had some of his best moments of the presidential race early in Thursday’s debate, and even before that, he had reclaimed the lead in Florida. The question now is whether there is anything left to trip him up. He has withstood the Bain Capital situation, gotten past the mistake of not releasing his tax returns, and the attacks on his health care bill and moderate past are old hat at this point. The question is what else is there? If nothing recasts this race in a significant way over the next four days – and there are no more debates until late February – Romney should win.