The race shakes up this week. It's the first major shake up of the Presidential horserace in weeks. Michele Bachmann surges into second place — running neck and neck with Mitt Romney. Falling further behind are everyone else.
Tim Pawlenty has stumbled. Gary Johnson is off the track. Newt Gingrich looks to be heading off the track. And then there's Herman Cain. Cain keeps surprising, but for how much longer?
It looks like Rick Perry is getting into the starting gate and we've got to start taking him seriously. Sarah Palin? Well, she's still not running, but this trip to Iowa raises questions — not just of whether she is running, but who is she helping.
While all eyes are on the starting gate to see who else might get in, Mitt Romney just signaled he's nervous.
We'll get into all of it this week in the Horserace. As always, the names are written alphabetically and the take is mine and mine alone as an objective, but conservative, observer of the Presidential horse race.
Michele Bachmann's polling right now is dazzling and I am now prepared to designate her officially as the anti-Romney candidate. She's been fighting for legitimacy for months. Her CNN New Hampshire debate performance helped her solidify that legitimacy. Her polling now makes her a top contender. It is a meteoric rise.
The problem for Bachmann is that a meteoric rise typically precedes a meteoric fall in politics. When candidates catch a spark as quickly as Michele Bachmann has, the other campaigns get nervous and a pile on typically ensues. But those campaigns taking off so quickly typically have not made all the staffing decisions they need and can be caught off guard by the pile on, find themselves unable to rapidly respond to the pile on, and flame out.
We're already seeing the attacks come in both through typical media vetting, liberal bias in the media, and no doubt a few selective leaks from her opponents both in Congress and other campaigns.
Right now though, Bachmann is giving Romney a run for his money in the polls. That doesn't have Romney worried yet because I'm willing to bet he doesn't see Bachmann as a long term rival, but as someone who can prevent a greater rival from catching up. HIstory is against Michele Bachmann being the nominee, but she's having a lot of fun defying history right now.
The more Michele Bachmann seems to be gaining steam, the more Herman Cain seems to be petering out. He has lost two staffers in the past few days. I am hearing rumblings that his campaign finances are not great. Contrary to some misconceptions, Cain cannot self fund. I love Herman Cain. Al Gore may have invented the internet, but Cain invented pizza, so God bless him. But this isn't looking good.
Running an insurgent campaign only gets you so far. Insurgent campaigns are heavily grassroots based. But with Michele Bachmann now owning the grassroots, it is hard for Cain to stand out. Bachmann's rise is his fall.
There is a silver lining for Herman Cain. He continues to have growing name id, high favorable intensity, and is holding his own in most polling. The attacks are going to come fast and furious on Michele Bachmann. Cain could potentially position himself to pick up the pieces. Right now, that is the only way I see him gaining traction.
I no longer see the rationale to Newt Gingrich's campaign. I have talked to a half dozen people over the past few weeks and all recount the same story. Newt told them he was running and largely saw the field as his to own and master. When you come into a race viewing yourself not as the dark horse, but as the white knight, your campaign strategy immediately goes flat when the voters don't embrace you as the savior and hero.
The financial loss to the Gingrich media campaign has got to be staggering. The loss to his reputation leaves a lot of us breathless. Were I Gingrich, I wouldn't limp through continuing to bleed. I'd be up front that the campaign wasn't going as well as expected, the party seems still unsure of its place in the world, and Newt should declare that he is going to step out and provide the intellectual ammunition for the others — then position himself as the all anti-Obama all the time intellect that he is and rebuild his reputation as the proverbial Moses of the party who doesn't get into the promised land, but without whom the promised land would have been unattainable.
Up front I admit I am biased against Jon Huntsman for a number of reasons. Though I have to admit his tax record is better than Romney's. The Huntsman campaign is intent on running as the happy moderate and portraying everyone else and their voters as angry.
The problem with that is Huntsman will then need to do something to get into the good graces of those voters come the general election. Certainly many will come out of loathing of Obama. But when Huntsman is portraying himself and the media is portraying Huntsman as the Republican version of Obama, that's not exactly helping.
If Utah moves up its primary, Huntsman and Romney will fight it out and the winner there will have some momentum. Right now, Huntsman seems focused on New Hampshire, but even more so states after New Hampshire. If Rick Perry gets in, that axes South Carolina from his strategy. He'll have what amounts to a Giuliani strategy, which I don't see getting him far.
And a dog fight in Michigan, Nevada, and New Hampshire with Romney helps Bachmann, Pawlenty, and Perry if he gets in.
Gary Johnson will be removed next week from the list. His campaign is dead in the water.
I do not, at this point, see signs that Sarah Palin is getting into the race for President. Considering, however, that she was in New Hampshire when MItt Romney announced and Iowa when Michele Bachmann announced, I definitely think Palin is trying to keep the window open to get in if her polling changes.
Right now, if I had to guess, I think she is not running for anything except continued relevance. Palin can legitimately shape up to be the king maker. I continue to dwell on her comments during the bus tour that she wants Rick Perry to run.
Ron Paul will not be the nominee, but his ability to excite a base of youthful voters is something that continues to impress a lot of people who should know better.
Pawlenty is feeling the political version of the great stagnation the country is feeling economically. He is going nowhere. The slow and steady pace has been what was keeping Pawlenty alive. To his credit, he has given more substantive economic and foreign policy speeches than any of the other candidates including, surprisingly, Mitt Romney.
But Pawlenty is not gaining traction. He's seen as boring to some or too nice to others. Neither of those are actually terrible things in a general election, but I don't think they are translating in a Republican Primary.
I still Pawlenty has the inside edge, but now I must say that this is only if he deals with Bachmann carefully. He's going to need her support in Iowa. Like Cain, Pawlenty can back on Bachmann going back down in the polls and be there to pick up the pieces. He may also have to get traction by going more aggressively for Romney. If, however, Rick Perry gets in, it is going to make it extremely difficult for Pawlenty.
The Perry buzz continues to grow. In addition to his trip to South Carolina for the RedState Gathering, I hear Perry's associates are reaching out to people in Iowa. Every indication is that Perry is serious about getting in, but I suspect he's first seeing if he can secure funding. If Perry gets in, I think we won't see Sarah Palin get in and I think we'll see a few other candidates depart sooner than expected.
Romney's campaign may be playing it safe, but there are signs of concern. A Wall Street Journal article from yesterday has quotes from a Utah elections official who claimed Romney was trying to pressure Utah to move up its primary date even though it would cost Utah citizens $2.5 million to do so.
That Romney is trying to move up the Utah primary to get himself a good win in a favorable state early suggests concern. Likewise, it is Jon Huntsman's home state too, but surprisingly a lot of polls have Romney beating Huntsman. Pushing up the primary could give Romney a chance to finish off Huntsman early instead of battling Huntsman's millions in a protracted race.
Likewise, with Bachmann's surge, we may see a situation where Bachmann wins Iowa, putting her in a position to also win South Carolina. Starting with the GOP Primary in 1980, no Republican has won the nomination without winning South Carolina.
I see no rationale for Rick Santorum to remain in the race and I expect him to drop out sooner rather than later. His fundraising is not going to be nearly as impressive as Bachmann's and he increasingly is without buzz on the campaign trail or an ability to have an impact.