Speculations about these numbers as they currently stand? Despite all the recent action, it is still (comparatively) early in the campaign and the numbers can be volatile, particularly with the idea that the candidate third in line is 'Undecided'. The race is clearly coalescing to one between Perry and Romney, with Perry still in a slight lead with a nod to the margin of error (but that could also mean that his lead is somewhat greater too). Romney has gained on him from his previous dearth of 11 points, but Romney has done nothing particularly positive in the interim, focused as he has been on taking on Perry instead of remembering that Obama is the real problem. Romney’s talking points in and out of the debates have been almost exclusively against Perry, with little said about his own record other than gauzy references to how he has been a businessman and not a ‘career politician’ (though, as I’ve said before, not from lack of trying).
Romney is not one to take chances (e.g., his refusal to say anything at all about the budget debate between Obama and the congressional Republican leadership until after its conclusion). There is a certain impatience and veiled insouciance in his hope for Perry to make some major gaffe, but he is taking Perry’s adequate yet less than stellar performances in the opening debates for what he can get, and has stepped up his focus on him. Today, Perry released a terrific and edgy video contrasting Obama with himself, and Romney immediately fired back an attack against Perry. Romney’s polished preparation of some years against Perry’s heartland candor is currently working in Romney’s favour, but at some point he is going to have to make a solid case for himself as opposed to being the anti-Perry.
The debate tonight, then, is likely to set the pace for a while, whether Romney keeps up his so-far successful nipping at Perry’s heels and numbers, or whether Perry establishes himself as the alpha male on the dais.
For those others remaining, there is the bloc clustered around the upper single digits (and all within the margin of error), and there is the group of those I would categorise as dead yet not fallen over: Santorum, Huntsman, and McCotter.
Santorum seems to really want to believe that his declaration of being a ‘winner’ (citing his two victories in races for the US Senate) can be safely delivered without the audience remembering that he was blown out of the water by 18 points in his last run against Bob Casey.
Huntsman wants to come across as cool (obscuring his moderate to left tendencies), but instead strikes the audience as aloof and unapproachable. Neither Santorum nor Huntsman connects well with the voters.
McCotter (God bless him) is bright and has a wickedly dry wit, but is too new and detached. He is way out of his element.
Among the also-running, Gingrich’s slight increase in standing reflects his commanding presence and devilishly snappy comebacks – one of the major crowd-pleasers during the debates and he takes to heart his role as referee to remind some of the candidates that the main purpose of this exercise is to take out Obama (to use a union phrase, now declared oddly innocuous and ignored by most of the MSM).
Bachmann continues to decline, and is now staking her campaign only on Iowa. She is losing staff, not the least of which is veteran campaign manager Ed Rollins, and she has taken to attacking not just exclusively Rick Perry, but now his wife. Surely she knows how desperate this looks (since the Merck/crony/Toomey accusation is falling apart), but it’s also hypocritical. If she can last up to Iowa, I’d be surprised.
Cain is as delightful and witty as always, with ideas of substance. He appears to be resigned to running for a position in Perry’s cabinet.
Paul’s crazy-uncle act is starting to wind down, along with his numbers. His latest bone-headed move is to stand at the podium of the Christian Science Monitor beside Dennis Kucinich, and announce that he would consider Kucinich for a cabinet-level position, as if to put a fillip on his "it's-all-our-fault" attitude to foreign policy.
I have said before that I consider Rasmussen to be the most accurate poll, and I am glad to have these results before the Fox News/Google debate tonight. The static around Perry should be intense, and I expect to see some movement after tonight.