The National Journal's Ronale Brownstein does the algebra on the current GOP field and finds that Romney's grip on frontrunner status is a tenuous one.
He says as long as Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry are battling each other, Romney will benefit.
For Romney, the new alignment offers one clear advantage: the possibility that the voters least likely to support him will be splintered between two opponents rather than consolidating behind one. Both in his 2008 bid, and in early 2012 polling, Romney has run best with voters holding at least a four-year college degree and those who do not identify as evangelical Christians —what might be called the party’s managerial wing. Romney has always struggled with the party’s populist wing, composed mostly of evangelical Christians and Republicans without a college degree.
Bachmann is an ideal opponent for Romney because she electrifies the populist voters most resistant to him, but remains a hard sell for most managers. Perry is a vastly bigger threat to Romney because Texas’ strong job-creation numbers gives him a much better chance than Bachmann of bridging the party’s two camps by attracting managerial Republicans. Yet Perry’s hard-right rhetoric and record (especially on social issues) makes it likely that he will still draw most of his support from the populist wing.
Brownstein says if Huntsman catches fire, he could split mainstream Republican votes with Romney.