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Mitt’s very good month

at 01:10 PM ET, 06/17/2011


Republican presidential hopeful, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney laughs during a campaign stop at a hardware store in Derry, N.H., Tuesday June 14, 2011. Many of the GOP candidates took advantage of campaigning in the state after Monday evening's Republican presidential debate. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has enjoyed an impressive last month in the presidential race as his strengths, his opponents’ weaknesses and an economy-centered national debate have combined to solidify his status as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

The new NBC/Wall Street Journal national poll affirms Romney’s strengthened position. He stood at 30 percent in a hypothetical 2012 matchup followed by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin at 14 percent and businessman Herman Cain at 12 percent. No other candidate received double digit support.

So, what’s gone right for Romney over the past month?

As always in politics, movement never happens because of just one factor. Here are a few that have likely fueled Romney’s rise:

* His formal entrance into the race earlier this month drew considerable media attention and was, by and large, favorably reviewed.

* The May jobs report showed just 54,000 jobs created and the unemployment rate moving up to 9.1 percent, allowing Romney to double-down on his attacks against President Obama’s fiscal policies.

* Romney was solid and serious during Monday night’s debate, a performance that put him on most post-game “winners” lists. The stumbles in that same debate by former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who tried to make up for lost time on Thursday, further elevated Romney.

Problems still remain for the frontrunner, however.

Romney’s decision to sign a health care law in Massachusetts that bears some considerable similarities to the national law put forward by President Obama remains an issue. He has yet to be seriously tested on it but that will change.

And, as we wrote earlier this week — and was demonstrated again on Thursday when Romney joked that he was “unemployed”he is still an awkward presence on the campaign trail, someone who is far better at giving big speeches than he is at relating to average people.

But, Romney is almost certain to get a major boost at the end of the month when his campaign releases its fundraising totals for his first few months of active fundraising.

Romney collected more than $10 million in a single day last month and, if his June fundraising schedule is any indication, is going to collect far more than that by the time the quarter ends.

If Romney is able to put considerable fundraising distance between himself and his rivals — most notably Pawlenty and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman — it will further solidify him as the favorite for the Republican nomination.

The trick then for Romney will be maintaining that frontrunner status all the way through next February — a very daunting task but one any of his rivals would trade in a second for what faces them between now and then.

Our rankings of the ten men and women most likely to wind up as the Republican presidential nominee next year are below. Agree or disagree with our picks? The comment section awaits!

To the Line!

10. Ron Paul: Paul may ultimately be seen as having started a movement within the GOP away from an open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan. But, many of his other views are well outside-the-mainstream of the party and ensure that Paul will have a deep but decidedly narrow support base for this race — just as he did when he ran for president in 2008. (Previous ranking: 10)

9. Newt Gingrich: While most political observers expected the campaign of the former House Speaker to struggle at some point, no one thought it would happen so soon and be so complete in its implosion. The mass resignations of Gingrich’s senior staff likely turn him into a novelty act in the race to come — someone who will show up at every candidate forum, debate and cattle call but will struggle to build the sort of operation in any early state to be a real factor in the nomination fight. On the other hand, Newt unbound should be something to see. (Previous ranking: 6)

8. Rick Santorum: Santorum gave a solid performance at the New Hampshire debate on Monday night but was overshadowed by the attention lavished on Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann in the aftermath of the first major event of the 2012 race. That’s indicative of Santorum’s bigger problems in the contest. In the absence of Bachmann or former Alaska governor Sarah Palin he might be able to get some traction in a place like Iowa as the choice of social conservatives. With either (or both) of them in the race, it’s hard to see how Santorum carves out space for himself. (Previous ranking: 9)

7. Herman Cain: It’s been a good news/bad news week for Cain. On the good news front, the NBC/WSJ poll showed him in third place in the hypothetical 2012 ballot test. On the bad side, Cain’s botching of a question about Muslims serving in his Cabinet raised serious questions about whether he is ready for the job he is seeking. Still, viewed broadly, Cain is in far better shape than most people thought he would be at this stage of the race. (Previous ranking: 8)

6. Sarah Palin: Palin continues to prove that she is the least predictable politician in modern politics. Her Memorial Day weekend bus tour up the east coast — complete with a shrink-wrapped bus — had the look of a campaign-in-waiting. But her decision to purposely dodge the media throughout the trip was confounding — unless she viewed the bus tour as a test-run for putting a campaign together that ignores the mainstream media entirely. Putting what Palin was after in the bus tour aside, her numbers are not in good shape as just 24 percent of those tested in the NBC/WSJ poll had a positive view of her. That is major problem she must figure out how to solve if she does run. (Previous ranking: 4)

5. Rick Perry: The Texas governor is now openly acknowledging that he is considering a run for president in 2012 and now has his full campaign team by his side. (Dave Carney and Rob Johnson, two longtime Perry aides were among those who quit Gingrich’s campaign last week.) If Perry runs, he likely moves up the Line because of his proven fundraising ability and strong connections within the tea party movement. At the moment, Perry is offering no timeline on when he will make up his mind or which way he is leaning. (Previous ranking: 7)

4. Jon Huntsman: Huntsman will formally enter the race on Tuesday but has been running almost from the moment he arrived back in the country — he was serving as the Obama Administration’s Ambassador to China. What Huntsman has: good looks, a top tier consulting team and buzz in the political world. What remains to be seen: Can Huntsman sell the Republican primary electorate on a less in-your-face brand of conservatism, particularly given his past support for civil unions and cap and trade? (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Michele Bachmann: Bachmann proved with her debate performance that she can hold her own with her rivals. She was charismatic, conservative and had a star quality that was missing from the other six men in the debate. But it’s not Bachmann’s debate showing alone that gets her ranked this high on the Line. Bachmann has a real chance at winning the Iowa caucuses — she and Pawlenty have to be viewed as the frontrunners at the moment — and, unlike other social conservative candidates of the past, will have the campaign cash to potentially capi­tal­ize on an Iowa victory. Bachmann’s challenge over the next few months will be to stay disciplined and avoid rhetorical errors — see Lexington and Concord — that could derail her momentum. (Previous ranking: 5)

2. Tim Pawlenty: Yes, Pawlenty pulled his punches against Romney in Monday’s debate. And, yes, it was a very high profile swing and miss. But those who write Pawlenty off based on a flub committed in a debate in June 2011 haven’t paid much attention the the roller coaster ride that is the fight for a presidential nomination. As we wrote earlier this week, the presidential race is a grind so over-valuing any single performance — no matter how good or bad — is misguided. Pawlenty needs to do far better in future debates to keep the “nice guy but not ready for primetime” narrative from growing into a major political liability. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Mitt Romney: This is what a well-run presidential campaign looks like. Unlike in 2008, Romney isn’t trying to be everything to everyone. Instead, he’s picking his moments and, like the debate on Monday, performing well when he does wade in. His upticking poll numbers reflect the steadiness of his effort over the past month. Romney’s path to the nomination is still a complicated one — especially for a frontrunner — but he sits in the catbird’s seat at the moment. (Previous ranking: 1)

 
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