Market Overview

Nomination is Still Romney's to Lose

National polls might show Herman Cain with the lead in the Republican presidential nomination contest, but is he really the favorite to win?

Because of the way national polls work, and because of the staggered nature of political primaries, it appears the answer is no. Early primary states covet those slots for a reason: it gives them tremendous influence over the process. Iowa, for example, holds the nation's first caucuses.

Typically, three candidates will emerge from Iowa with any sort of chance of winning the nomination. Therefore, winning an early state (New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, Florida) gives a potential nominee a huge leg up on his opponents. Early wins change the minds of later voting states, solidifying support and building a bit of inevitability to the contest. This is why candidates spend so much time, money, and effort in those early states.

So, if you're going to predict who is going to win the Republican primary, you have to factor in the early states and then extrapolate out the results of those early elections to the rest of the states. It is definitely an art and not a science, as you have to account for factors such as money remaining (well-funded campaigns might choose to fight longer), home state advantages (an Iowa governor winning Iowa is not as big a deal as a different candidate winning), as well as the timing of candidate dropouts (when one candidate drops out, who are his/her supporters likely to vote for?).

Under those guidelines, it appears that the polling in four key early voting states shows that Mitt Romney, not Herman Cain, will be the Republican nominee in 2012. Despite showing up in second place nationwide, Romney leads in all four early states. Given the fractured field and his relative perceived moderate status (as in, conservatives don't trust he'll govern as a true blood conservative), this is about as good of news as he could hope for.

IOWA: on January 3, 2012

  • Romney 24%
  • Cain 21%
  • Paul 12%
  • Gingrich 10%
  • Perry 10%
  • Bachmann 6%
  • Santorum 2%
  • Huntsman 1%
  • Someone else (vol.) *
  • None/ No one (vol.) 3%
  • No opinion 11%

Iowa is one state that will break a handful of campaigns unless they can get into the top three. Romney and Cain are looking strong, and Ron Paul is always going to have his supporters. The surprise is Gingrich and Perry are both in at 10 percent. We could see all five of those candidates emerge from Iowa. If Romney wins, the nomination is almost certainly his. If he loses, he opens the door for Cain to gain ground in New Hampshire and possibly win in South Carolina.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: expected date of January 10, 2012

  • Romney 40%
  • Cain 13%
  • Paul 12%
  • Huntsman 6%
  • Gingrich 5%
  • Perry 4%
  • Bachmann 2%
  • Santorum 1%
  • Someone else (vol.) *
  • None/ No one (vol.) 5%
  • No opinion 14%

Romney has had New Hampshire locked up from the day he announced. Cain and Paul are fighting for second place, and each man needs that second place finish to have a chance overall. Cain and Paul will both want momentum heading into South Carolina. If Paul wants to win, he HAS to get to second place here to build going into South Carolina. If Rick Perry is out of the top five in Iowa and New Hampshire, he may as well go home.

SOUTH CAROLINA: on January 21, 2012

  • Romney 25%
  • Cain 23%
  • Paul 12%
  • Perry 11%
  • Gingrich 8%
  • Bachmann 4%
  • Huntsman 1%
  • Santorum 1%
  • Someone else (vol.) *
  • None/ No one (vol.) 5%
  • No opinion 10%

This is where Herman Cain will make his stand, if he is going to make a serious run at the top slot. If he can win Iowa and finish closer in New Hampshire, he may pick up enough support to win in South Carolina. A potential win would be stunted somewhat by geography (he is from neighboring Georgia) but would put him in good position heading into Florida.

FLORIDA: on January 31, 2012

  • Romney 30%
  • Cain 18%
  • Gingrich 9%
  • Perry 9%
  • Paul 6%
  • Bachmann 4%
  • Huntsman 1%
  • Santorum 1%
  • Someone else (vol.) 1%
  • None/ No one (vol.) 7%
  • No opinion 14%

This is where things start to really get interesting. If Romney goes 4 for 4 with a win here, the nomination will be his. If not, the spreads in New Hampshire and South Carolina will determine the shifting loyalties of Florida GOP voters. If Perry drops out before Florida, his 9 percent would be a huge bloc. They seem like natural Cain voters, but could go to Gingrich if he gets hot, or Romney if he seems inevitable. Whatever the case, January will be an interesting month for the nominees.

The full results, as posted on CNN, are available here.

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