This week pundits and voters alike got some clarity in the Republican presidential primary. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is out. Sarah Palin is out. The only candidates in double digits in polls are Mitt Romney, Herman Cain and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. But Perry’s first quarter (aside from the fundraising) was pretty much a disaster. So, pundits conclude: “It’s Romney’s race to lose.”
There is evidence of Romney momentum, as Politico reported:
Incoming Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford and state Rep. Chris Dorworth, who had been for Tim Pawlenty, are going to get behind Romney when he visits Tallahassee on Wednesday, according to GOP sources.
Some members of the coy New York money crowd indicated that they will now back Romney.
Romney talked Tuesday afternoon with Ken Langone, the Home Depot co-founder who had been the leading cheerleader for a Christie candidacy, and two senior Romney officials say he’s come on board. And veteran GOP fundraiser Georgette Mosbacher told Capital New York that she is also getting on board.
New York grocery magnate John Catsimatidis is also coming out for Romney.
So Romney can wrap this up quickly? Well, maybe. As Romney advisor Stuart Stevens told me the other day, “You have to respect the process.” In other words, nothing is decided yet. There are about 90 days before voters are likely to start counting votes. That’s an eternity in this race. Ninety days ago Perry wasn’t in the race, Cain was in low single digits, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was riding high, and conservatives were hoping Christie or Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would get into the race.
Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America told me that while the poll of her members shows a wild swing in support toward Cain and away from Perry, her members are certainly up for grabs. “I absolutely believe that it is still anyone’s race. Rick Perry can make a comeback or another candidate can surge. Even though there will likely be early primaries it is still only early October. I thought our poll mostly shows conservative women as conflicted at this point. They are still ‘playing the field’ and have not settled down with one candidate.” She concludes, “Rick Perry’s poor showing the last couple of debates have definitely left a mark, but by no means is he done. Additionally, I would say Gov. Perry and Gov. Romney had better watch their backs as Cain, Bachmann or [Rick] Santorum are still interesting to women.” Men as well.
What we know is that voters are shopping around, at times frenetically, without much information on which to base their passing preferences. Pundits and donors may be drifting toward a “Romney’s race to lose” scenario, but voters aren’t there yet.
Romney is a better candidate and more deserving of front-runner status than he was at the beginning of the summer. He’s reestablished himself as the most electable competitor to Obama. His campaign is as error-free as any I have seen in recent years. However, he has yet to close the deal or win a single delegate. He’s going to have to navigate through more debates and return to Iowa, New Hampshire and other early state primaries to woo finicky voters. Is it likely he can do that? Yes. Is it in the bag? Hardly.