1. Perry - Gov. Rick Perry would be the nominee if the primary election were held today. It will not be. Perry is doing well, and remains a candidate who looks good on paper and has performed well. He is leading in Iowa and SC, and victories in both these states would make it very likely for him to be the next GOP nominee. He is doing as well as Secretary Clinton was this time 4 years ago. In otherwords, he appears to be a lock, but it is far to early for that to have much meaning. He needs to show he can raise money this quarter, that he has a solid opperation in place, and he needs to continue to poll well against Obama.
Perry continues to benefit from being attacked. The statements in his book, and that he has made on the trail may have appeared outside the political main-stream in years past. This election cycle there is a feeling that the voters want someone who is not lock-step with the PC-crowed. 3rd rails of politics were knocked down since Obama has been elected and we now live in world with the tea party. By the time of the election we will likely live in a post tea-party world. One where voters are looking for a president who is fed-up, just as they feel.
All the above said, Perry's got one advantage that none of the other GOP candidates have: the Texas economy. People want jobs. People want others to get to work and stop collecting government benefits. They are willing to elect someone who they do not agree with, if they think that will get them a job. Rick Perry has that huge advantage. Short of an unforseeable economy recovery that drops unemployment by 3-4%, Perry remains the most likely nominee. Perry has a record as governor of Texas for a decade and Texas has jobs; he has credibility that Romney and the others lack when he talks about economic issues. Other people can say words, Perry has results. That issue is more importaint than his lead in the polls, and remains why he is placed above Romney at this time.
The other think Perry has is charisma. He has one-liners that rival those of Reagan, and which make him (so far) make him appear to be made of teflon. He is no Fred Thompson, and clearly did not fizzle out early. This all said, many voters are not paying much attention. When then do, polls will matter more.
2. Romney - Romney has actually campaigned well. Although he is not leading in the polls, he has run a very smart campaign by staying out of the heat of the fight. 4 years ago he peaked too early. The number 1 concern of most voters will have (other than jobs) is and will be having someone as president who is not Obama and who is acceptable to them. Romney remains a viable candidate and is possitioning himself as a clear alternative to Obama. Some have suggested that Romney should go on the attack against Perry. I am not one of them. I think Romney's strongest assest in the GOP primary is that he is viewed as broadly acceptable to the party. He will not win as someone's first choice, but remains able to win if he can remain viewed as a lock to beat Obama who is tollerable.
That said, I also do not agree with those people who think Romney should just sit around and wait and hope for Perry to mess up. I doubt Perry will. Furthermore, Romney needs to not campaign in either the primary or general election like Dewey. He needs to come out with specific plans, and argue that his policies and plans are better. His path to victory is in the details. He needs specific plans, detailed budgets, and specific legislation proposals. They need to be plans that could pass congress, and would make an impact on the economy. Simply speaking, Romney needs to appear as though he is the geek, the planner, the analyst, the manager, and the person who can work at the detail level to help fix the economy. Romney is not Reagan or Perry. He cannot come out with general ideals and win an election on them. Romney needs to run as the planner, the details guy. The person who has a specific plan and who understands the economy. Short of this as he will lose. Likely to Perry, but if Perry falls, someone else will still beat him. Romney cannot run on general ideas. He must run on specifics to win.
3. Bachmann -- I don't think she will win. Frankly speaking, she is not and never was a governor. Not even a Senator. I am not sure that GOP primary voters would nominate someone who lacks executive experience. Secondly, she polls were against Obama than do others. If she is to have a shot, she needs to find a way to appeal to more pragmatic voters. I am not sure of how she can do that.
4. Paul -- I just do not see it happening for Paul. That said, he has exceeded all expectations. I think he is being listened to and that he is a viable candidate this year; unlike last year. Paul is now within the GOP mainstream; something that was not the case even 2 years ago. That said, he is a member of the House. He is also old. He, like Bachmann, lack an actual record of creating jobs. He, like Bachmann, is running on ideas, not results. He, like Bachmann is not a governor. I don't see him winning.
5. Santorum -- Rick Santorum outperformed my expectations greatly at Ames. He has a history of being a fighter and made it past the cut as someone who is worth mentioning. It is less likely, in my opinion, for him to win the GOP nomination than for Paul or Bachmann to. As I think their chances are slim, I think Santorm's chances are less. Infact, I think his chances are between slim and none. Since they are greater than none, I'm keeping him on the list....for now.