Finally there is clarity about the GOP field in the race to take on President Obama in the fall of 2012. The field is fixed. There are no more "possibles" out there. Governors Christie and Palin have closed the door, and Senator Rubio doesn't even want to talk about being vice president much less than president.
The Intrade political futures market favors Mitt Romney's bid by an overwhelming 58 percent probability of nomination to Rick Perry's 18 percent and Herman Cain's 7 percent at this writing. Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and Michele Bachmann are all still on the trail, as is Ron Paul, but the odds against them all are prohibitive.
Cain supporters think they can see a path to the nomination, but it is hard for professional talking heads to wear those particular magic glasses.
It looks like a two man race that turns on one question: Does Romney or Perry stand a better chance of defeating President Obama? The vast majority of GOP primary voters will agree that either Republican is vastly to be preferred to the incumbent, so which of the two men has the better chance of beating the president?
This isn't a question of who is the better debater, who can raise the most money, or who has the better record of governing?
It is a combination of all those factors and more: Who, right now, looks to get the most electoral votes in a head-to-head contest with Barack Obama, and at least 270 total?
I have been asking a number of pundits this question, on air and off. The consensus position is that Romney makes Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan much more competitive for the GOP.
There's an argument that Rick Perry brings more appeal in Colorado with its deep red GOP and expanding Latino population, and brings North Carolina home to the GOP as well. One talking head argued that Florida with its "southern" panhandle is also easier for Perry to lock up, but that is disputed by others.
Virginia and Indiana are thought by most of the center-right commentariat to go GOP regardless of which man is the nominee.
Opinions are all over the board on each of these state-by-state prognostications, but the above is what emerged as the majoritarian opinion.
Romney expands the map. Perry energizes the base.
Which matters more in November 2012?
The debates ahead are really extended arguments over this basic calculation. The two governors will be answering hundreds of different questions for dozens of different audiences, but the key assessment is the one that begins with the electoral college map and that number of 270.
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