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Mitt the inevitable?

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In the past few weeks, a realization appears to have dawned on the political world: Mitt Romney is very likely to be the Republican nominee for president in 2012.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, speaks with supporters after the debate at the Benjamin Johnson Arena, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011 in Spartanburg, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

To wit:

* President Obama’s campaign surrogates have focused their critique exclusively on Romney of late; former White House communicator Bill Burton released a memo Saturday attacking the Republican as a flip-flopper on the issue of abortion

* In each of the last two debates, none of his Republican opponents have come anywhere close to attacking Romney and instead have focused the vast majority of their rhetorical fire on Obama.

* Forty-five percent of Republicans in an early November Gallup survey said they believe Romney will be the nominee, triple the percentage (13 percent) that see businessman Herman Cain as the likely GOP nominee. Just 9 percent named Texas Gov. Rick Perry and 4 percent said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich would be the nominee.

“They continue to methodically build a foundation that, with each passing day, is capable of weathering an increasingly strong storm,” said Jim Dyke, a senior party strategist not affiliated with any of the candidates, of the Romney campaign.

What’s interesting about the Romney rise is that it isn’t a rise at all. Romney has remained steady, while his potential rivals have fallen.

Cain has struggled to get beyond the allegations of sexual harassment that have dogged his campaign for the last several weeks. While his core support remains surprisingly strong in the face of the accusations, the momentum he was building prior to the revelations has been almost entirely stopped.

Perry’s implosion has been more slow-moving — his best days in the race were his first ones — but he put an exclamation point on his struggles with his now-infamous “oops” moment.

And, while there’s no question that Gingrich appears to be the conservative alternative of the moment, his long record in public life — not to mention the lack of any real organization in early states — makes him look like a long shot to unseat Romney.

“No campaign has shown they have the resources, the organization, the candidate and the strategy to capture voters in a sustained way,” noted Dyke.

Romney’s campaign, not surprisingly, is not “taking anything for granted,” according to spokeswoman Andrea Saul. (They are also taking it day by day, working hard to earn every vote and various other political cliches.)

And that’s a smart strategy, given that this Republican presidential race has been as unpredictable as any in recent memory — remember when Donald Trump was regarded as a real factor in the race? — and there’s no reason to think that there won’t be more twists before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.

Given the fluidity of the race and the focus on Obama, Mississippi governor and well-regarded GOP mind Haley Barbour suggested over the weekend that Romney isn’t really the definitive frontrunner.

Others agree that there is reason to be hesitant.

“It’s not easy to see how he gets beat, but there are a thousand ways he could lose,” said veteran GOP operative Ed Rogers. “There is a lot of time left, and a lot will happen.”

Ed Rollins, who managed Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign earlier this year, said that the only way to unseat Romney is to “follow the Obama model,” adding: “Diminish him by nailing him as a flip-flopper. Hang Bain Capitol, lost jobs (and) Romneycare around his neck.”

Rollins said that either Perry or Gingrich could execute that strategy but acknowledged it’s “not easy.”

With every day that passes — and every debate where Romney doesn’t even suffer a glancing blow — that task becomes more and more difficult.

Poll shows Romney and Gingrich gaining: A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows Romney and Gingrich gaining as other GOP contenders — most notably, Perry — have fallen off.

The poll surveyed the same sample in early November and then again late last week.

While Romney trailed Cain by 1 percent in the initial sample, he led him 32 percent to 27 percent in the later sample. Gingrich, meanwhile, went from 17 percent in the initial sample to 22 percent in the later sample.

Perry, meanwhile, saw his support fall even further, from 8 percent to 4 percent.

Meanwhile, a new Politico/George Washington University poll also suggests Cain is paying a price.

Gloria Cain defends husband:Cain's wife, Gloria, is speaking out for the first time, two weeks after sexual harassment allegations against her husband first came to light.

During an appearance on Fox News with Greta van Susteren, Gloria Cain said her husband “totally respects women” and that the allegations don’t reflect the man she knows.

“I’m thinking he would have to have a split personality to do the things that were said,” Gloria Cain said.

The Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson notes that the candidate’s wife has been invisible for the last six months of the campaign.

Gingrich robocalls in Florida: A GOP source in Florida passes along this robocall from Team Gingrich.

In the call, Gingrich plays up the momentum created by his debate performances.

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“The debates have gone exceedingly well, and I can tell you more than a few conservatives can’t wait to see me and President Obama in a one-on-one debate,” Gingrich says in the call. “Poll numbers are moving steadily upwards, and voters in the early states are starting the take notice.”

Gingrich doesn’t have much of a campaign operation these days, but the robocalls suggest the beginning of a media campaign to capi­tal­ize on his momentum.

Fixbits:

Rich Galen explains how Gingrich can win.

A preview on the attacks we might see on Gingrich.

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) campaign tries to get in on the media-bashing, accusing CBS News of trying to shut her out of Saturday’s debate coverage. But it fails to get much traction on Twitter.

She also says she wants to beat embattled former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky “to a pulp.”

CBS’s “60 Minutes” suggests John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi have engaged in a form of insider trading.

Vice President Biden campaigns for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

Former state Sen. Richard Tisei, the GOP’s lieutenant governor nominee in Massachusetts last year, will challenge Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.).

A 22-year-old mayor.

Must-reads:

After a Romney Deal, Profits and Then Layoffs” — Michael Barbaro, New York Times

Rick Perry’s respectable debate rebound” — Eleanor Clift, Newsweek

Can Gingrich seize and unexpected moment?” — Dan Balz, Washington Post

Two Washingtons: Bitterly divided Georgia town reflects discord in nation’s capital” — Eli Saslow, Washington Post

Super committee well short of a deal, members say” — Lisa Mascaro, Los Angeles Times

Occupy protesters defy eviction order in Oregon; dozens arrested elsewhere” — AP

Some Democrats refuse to back Obama” — Manu Raju and Marin Cogan, Politico

Why Do the Republican Debates Seem to Matter So Much?” — Michael D. Shear, New York Times

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