Horserace for September 22, 2011

Is the love affair over? Mitt Romney is starting to creep up on Rick Perry. Perry is drifting down in polling. Michele Bachmann has dropped of the radar.More surprisingly, Jon Huntsman suddenly looks like he’s searching for a viable path to victory out of New Hampshire and his gains are not having an impact on Mitt Romney . . . yet.Tonight there is another debate in Florida. This time it is Orlando, FL and everyone will, yet again, gang up on Rick Perry. But his lead is slipping. He has not locked in the support he needs and consolidated his gains. Close . . . so close for Perry. But is the love affair fading?We’ll get into all of that today in the horserace.

Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann has fallen off the path to victory and, surprisingly, many of her supporters have headed toward Mitt Romney. She could potentially get back on the path to victory, but she’ll need to start showing life in Iowa. She’s not showing well in any state right now except Iowa. Iowa will have to give her a bounce over New Hampshire to get her into South Carolina.Ever since Rick Perry got in the race, Bachmann has floundered. Right now she is serving a useful purpose for Romney by attacking Perry on HPV. But those attacks are not actually helping Michele Bachmann. In fact, I would argue the over the top attacks have been hurting Bachmann and, to a lesser degree, Perry.Bachmann needs to regain her footing and focus on getting more money. If she can’t compete in Iowa, she can’t compete anywhere.

Herman Cain

Herman’s campaign is over. There is no path to victory. He played the few cards he had not as well as he should have.

Newt Gingrich

Gingrich is still not resonating with voters, many of whom see him as yesterday’s leader, not tomorrow’s. He seemed reconciled to that in the last GOP debate, but maybe a fiery performance tonight will fire back up the Gingrich 2012 campaign. I won’t hold my breath. Is he just hanging out in hopes of paying off campaign debt? That seems to be the most likely explanation.

Jon Huntsman

A new poll suggests Jon Huntsman is coming on strong in New Hampshire, moving into second place behind an increasingly entrenched Mitt Romney.But like with Bachmann in Iowa, New Hampshire would need to be a must win state for Huntsman and I doubt he can overcome the Romney advantage. If he starts throwing mud in Romney’s direction to hurt Romney — something he will have to do — that may help Huntsman in New Hampshire, but overall helps a guy like Perry even more because Perry is more competitive than Huntsman in most other places.

Ron Paul

Ron Paul will not be the nominee.

Rick Perry

Let’s just admit that Perry is a bad debater. I do not expect much from him in tonight’s debate. He will need to have good answers on social security and immigration. He needs to prepare again for the HPV issue, but I suspect that issue has largely blown over.Foreign policy is going to be a bigger focus. He handled the Afghan question poorly in the last debate. He’ll get a do-over. Fundamentally, Perry has been unable to close the deal with the primary electorate. True, there is still plenty of time before Iowa, but now is the time to start locking in a lead to shut out others. The keep polling will come in December. If Perry is able to hold on, and I suspect he will, Perry will be the nominee. As much as people are not sold on Perry, those same people just want a show of competence so they can permanently cut strings with MItt Romney, the guy who is everyone’s fallback.Perry remains the frontrunner and the ad war and state by state playing field that will be more playable after this series of debates is where he’ll need to make up some ground. The exception is if he finally has a stellar debate performance. I don’t normally put too much stock in debate performances — and Perry has not had one since 2005, which suggests he does not either — but the debate performances are driving the narrative right now and driving Perry’s polling down. That said, it is not hurting him in Florida so far and a majority of Republicans agree on the ponzi scheme comment.The Perry love affair is not over for primary voters. But they sure are stringing Mitt Romney along as a fallback.

Mitt Romney

The Romney strategy had been to sit back and wait for Perry to implode. That has not happened so they are engaged in pushing Perry, hoping to find the self-destruct button on Perry. In doing so, Romney is making himself less and less a conservative and more and more a John McCain.The history of the Republican nominating process shows there is merit to that strategy. Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain were all the safe picks and more moderate than some of the fire breathing conservatives. But their track record was not so good at winning the general election.George H. W. Bush largely won in 1988 because he was Reagan’s successor. George W. Bush beat McCain in 2000 by being the conservative. In 1980, Reagan beat George H. W. Bush in a primary that increasingly resembles this primary. I’m not comparing Perry to Reagan except to the extent Reagan was viewed as the risky, hard charging heir to Goldwater conservatism and Bush was the guy who Washington Republicans felt would play it safe.The mood of the 2012 cycle strikes me as the mood of the 1980 cycle. Romney’s money gives him a strong cushion, but he could stumble outside the zeitgeist of the election. Already he’s lost his front runner status and his strategy to get it back — to get to the left of Perry on key issues — won’t help him in the ad war.

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum will not be the nominee.