Romney is holding steady as the favorite of around 25% of Republican voters. The other seven candidates are splitting the remaining 75% of the vote. However, those 75% are pretty much united in their opposition to Romney. If, say, Michelle Bachmann were to retire from the race her supporters would not go to Romney. Most of them would likely go to one of the remaining six more conservative candidates. Likewise, for any of the other "non-Romneys" in the campaign.
It seems to me, then, that the Republican nominee will be the candidate, other than Romney, who can outlast all the others. Right now that looks like it will be either Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich.
I think it will be Gingrich for the following reasons:
- Newt is clearly the brightest, most well-informed candidate in the field. No one comes close to him in their grasp of the issues or their ability to articulate them.
- GOP primary voters will soon ask themselves which of the three top alternatives to Romney - Perry, Cain, or Gingrich - they want to see on the debate stage against Barack Obama, and the answer to that will almost certainly be Gingrich.
- Gingrich has government experience that Herman Cain lacks, and, in any event, the allegations against Cain have, I think, mortally wounded his candidacy.
- Gingrich has an ability to enthrall an audience that neither Romney nor Perry has.
Gingrich does have baggage - he comes across on occasion as prickly and petulant, although the story about him telling his wife that he wanted a divorce while she lay dying of cancer in a hospital bed is completely apocryphal - and that baggage will weigh him down some, but he's surely aware of that and must have calculated that he can weather it.
Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal has written a good piece on why she thinks Newt is the dark horse in the race. You can check it out here.