Perry - Perry is having a tough time, but he is still in the driver’s seat. We just don’t know if he can drive a national cammpaign yet. Perry has taken an ungodly amount of criticism from the other candidates. He has stumbled in the early debates. He is still first or second in all the national polls. There is a learning curve in running for President. A state politician can master state-level issues, but not master the details of what gets talked about in a national campaign. Governor Perry probably knows Texas state policy, but he never needed a concise and coherent explanation of why Romneycare was a bad idea. He needs that now. The currents of public opinion are also different. It isn’t just that Texas’ political culture is to the right of the national political culture. It isn’t even always a right/left thing. Perry the Texas Republican conservative had trouble explaining his perspective on immigration to general American Republican conservatives. It wasn’t just that his policy preferences diverged. It was that he didn’t even have a useful vocabulary for explaining those differences. Perry has a lot to learn.
But he has substantial assets. He is a pretty small government governor. He has an impressive-looking record of job creation. He was pro-life before he decided to run for President. He never supported Romneycare. If Perry gets his act together, he is more in control of his own destiny than any of the other candidates. The main question is whether he is willing and able to adjust to the issues and public opinion currents of national politics.
Romney - Everything is going as well as it can and he still isn’t cracking 25% in the national polls. But he could still win if Perry sinks in Iowa and he is left heads up against Bachmann, or Cain.
Christie - Everything I said about Perry is at least as true about Christie when it comes to national issues and opinions. Being governor of Jersey means that he has had to take more postions that put him on the other side of the average Republican voter. On the other hand he has taken serious steps towards fiscal consolidation in a state with a tough political culture for that sort of thing. He seems more serious about preventing national bankruptcy than moving up the next step of the political ladder. That is a very attractive quality. It is late and the learning curve is tough. It also takes time to recover from the intial blast of criticism that is sure to come. Of all of these people, he is my guy, but I’m trying to be realistic about his chances.
Cain - He wilted after only a little media scrutiny and almost zero criticism from the other candidates earlier in the year. His policy program sounds good at first, but is at best problematical and open to very sharp criticisms as a middle-class tax increase. He has lost the only other race he has ever run. His last (generally very good) debate perfromance indicated that his understanding of Obamacare might be flawed. Maybe he has what it takes to go the distance, but all the evidence points in the other direction.