1. Rick Perry
End of list.
The 2012 Nominaton contest is far from over. However, at this point -- at shown from the last couple GOP debates -- Rick Perry is not only the front runner, but the presumptive nominee. Gov. Perry's debate performance, which again was solid, is not so much the key factor as the impression the last couple debates and news stories have given. Namely that all the other potential nominees are set on attacking Perry. Clearly, every other campaign views Perry as -- not only the front runner -- but is the candidate who will obtain the nomination unless something big changes.
Governor Romney made the wrong choice in attacking Perry during the last couple debates. Most notably on issues such as social security and jobs. Governor Romney in 2008 was not an acceptable choice for the GOP field. That is why he lost his frontrunner status and early lead. The 2012 GOP electorate is more concerned with Obamacare/Romney care, and is more conservative than the 2012 field. Romney's attacks on Perry job creation is Texas will fall on deaf ears. Romney's social security attacks hurt Romney more than Perry. Romney had/has limited time in the debates and he wasted and is wasting it attacking Perry. No matter how much Perry is attacked, that does not make Romney look a more acceptable candidate. Romney's problem is Romney. He needed/needs to improve his image. He has and is failing to do that.
The other candidates all have far worse problems getting elected than does Romney. Romney was in the lead prior to Perry joining the race because none of the others were considered presidential level. Perry, without question, is. Romney -- for this first time this year -- faces a credible opponent. He cannot win by trying to attack him alone. Romney needed/needs to become a trustworthy, authentic, likeable option. He lost 4 years ago to McCain. There is no way Romney can make Perry look as bad as McCain for the typical voter. The typical GOP voter, given the choice of Romney or Perry -- no matter what anyone says bad about Perry -- is going to vote for Perry over Romney. Romney's only hope was/is to make Romney sound better. He is falling off that path.
His advisors are likely to blame for this. This appear to think that the key to them winning is to knock down Perry; make him look worse. They hope to win by default. That plan -- as I said before -- will not work. The majority of GOP primary voters are tone deaf to these sorts of attacks. Perry is stronger on boarder security than McCain was, that is without question. Attacking him on that, or HPV, or social security, or any number of these things will be no more effective than the massive attacks against McCain. Infact, they will be much less effective. The more the attacks are launched, the more Perry supporters -- and even those who do not support anyone -- will become tone deaf to them.
Romney's 1 chance was and may still be to start running a campaign for why Romney would be a good president. Unless and until voters change their mind and think that, Romney cannot win. Before Perry came in the race, most GOP primary voters thought Romney would be a less-bad president than the other options. That is not 'good.'
Romney does have supporters, including a number in the establishment. That said, textbook politics is the politics that worked in the past. In Romney's case, his textbook politics are what did not work in the past. In 1980, Carter attacked Reagan as too far out of mainstream. Carter lost because voters did not like Carter. In 1992 Bush attacked Clinton as not ready to lead. Yet, Clinton won because voters were not happy with Bush. In 2008, McCain attacked Obama as inexperienced, a socialist, etc. Obama still won. No matter how much Romney attacks Perry, it will not help Romney. The only effect will be to make people tune out what Romney says about Perry more and more.
At this point, it is too early to say anything; but based on what is going on now, Perry appears the likely nominee.