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Could Romney 'train' be derailed by Gingrich? Perry? Someone new?

The word 'inevitable' is getting tossed around these days when it comes to Mitt Romney and the GOP nomination. But Newt Gingrich remains a real rival, and it's even still possible for a newcomer to enter the contest.

By Staff writer / December 27, 2011

Mitt Romney smiles from his car window as he departs from a rally held at Geno's Chowder & Sandwich Shop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Tuesday. Will anyone derail the Romney 'train?'

Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters


The scenario looks increasingly plausible: Republican voters will ultimately hand their party's presidential nomination to Mitt Romney, even though many of them aren't excited about doing so.

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But if the word "inevitable" is getting used a fair amount by political analysts these days, the nomination is hardly a sure thing for the former governor of Massachusetts.

His big assets are that his campaign is well organized, he has had no major missteps, and his rivals have foibles or flaws in the eyes of Republican voters. So it's entirely possible that the train called "Mitt for president in 2012," which essentially left the station after his 2008 candidacy ended, will roll steadily to the nomination.

“The dynamics couldn’t be better for us,” a senior Romney strategist told New York Magazine. “I don’t see any scenario where we’re not the nominee.”

But in a campaign that has been volatile for several months, calling the race over before voting begins may be premature. 

Another scenario, for example, includes a protracted "Newt versus Mitt" battle that pits Mr. Romney against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is now Romney's main rival in polls. 

Another is that one or more candidates who are now further behind catch some momentum in Iowa or New Hampshire, and voters take a second look. That's what Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Michele Bachmann are hoping. If things get really complicated, the result could be a "brokered convention" in which no candidates has amassed the needed support before GOP delegates arrive to formally select the nominee.

A third scenario, conceivable if Romney looks vulnerable coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire, is that a new candidate enters the race in time to compete in later primaries. Here again, the outcome could then be drawn-out suspense in the primaries and at the convention.

Here's what one prominent poll shows now.

According to Gallup, Mr. Gingrich is ahead of Romney among registered Republicans nationwide, but just barely. Support for the former House speaker surged last month after the candidacy of businessman Herman Cain collapsed, but over the past three weeks has ebbed to 26 percent.

Some 23 percent of GOP voters say they'd go with Romney, 12 percent with Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, 8 percent with Texas Governor Perry, 6 percent with Representative Bachmann of Minnesota, 3 percent with former Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania, and 1 percent with former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

The idea of a late-entry candidate is surely a wild card, but it's been getting some buzz lately. In a new issue of The Weekly Standard, conservative commentator William Kristol makes a direct appeal to potential candidates now on the sidelines.


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