Can anyone place a strong second or third in order to become the de facto “anti-Romney” and create a headwind going into South Carolina? The answer is probably no, but it doesn’t have to be.
Romney is going to win big today. Polls show that Ron Paul may get second.
But if any of the other candidates can outperform their second-tier rivals, that may create the momentum necessary to break off supporters of other candidates and go strong into South Carolina.
The three candidates to watch will be Senator Santorum, Speaker Gingrich and Governor Huntsman.
At this point, all of these guys would be preferred to Mitt Romney, but do any of them have what it takes?
A surprise from Rick Santorum who is muddled at around 11% support may be enough get the all important James Dobson and Christian Conservative support. If he could overachieve by breaking 15%, he will be the story for the next two weeks and evangelicals in South Carolina will have someone to coalesce around.
Jon Huntsman is up to around 15% support. If he can continue his rise and exceed expectations today, by coming close to 20% he could make the case that he is here to win. Huntsman is someone who could compete in South Carolina and rival Romney in Florida. This is a smart guy that could go along way towards uniting the base. He is similar to Romney in background, yet superior in almost every category. If Huntsman doesn’t come in third though, this will be the end of the line for him. But don’t be surprised if he is an early frontrunner next time.
Gingrich is really the wild card today. He is a candidate expected to do little. Can he break 15% support? If he does, he might have get his mojo back. If he loses to Santorum again, it is bad news for him.
With the exception of Huntsman, almost everyone can survive today long enough to go into South Carolina.
Although none of these three candidates inspire passion, they are all guys we could vote. Romney on the other hand has held the political antithesis to our views at some point. He will win without us and in spite of us. If he can win the nomination (he will) and beat Obama (he won’t) then he would be free of promises to the base to govern however he saw fit.
While the delegate race has hardly started, the momentum of a 3-0 sweep for Romney could silence conservatives for the rest of the year. I’m pulling for any of these three to win today and take it to South Carolina.