Front-runner , no; serious contender, yes

Mitt Romney’s campaign is claiming that Romney is now the front-runner for the Republican nomination, according to the Washington Post. A memo by Alex Gage, Romney’s senior strategist, cites Romney’s strength in the early primary states and Giuliani’s slippage in the national polls of about 2 to 3 percentage points per month.
I know this isn’t a normal election cylce, but it’s difficult to condider a candidate running fourth nationally with only 10 percent support (according to the Real Clear Politics average) the front-runner. Moreover, if one looks at the RCP chart one doesn’t that much change in the relative positions of Romney and Giulaini in the past month or so. Finally, I question the thrust of Gage’s assessment that Giuliani and Fred Thompson “may be competing for the same pool of voters.” For Romney to move up in the “standings” he will have to compete with Thompson for the votes of conservative base members. Giuliani is also competing for these votes, of course, but he seems well-positioned to compete for McCain voters to the extent McCain continues to slip.
Even so, Romney is hardly your average fourth place candidate with 10 percent support. His strong standing in the “early” states, his ability to raise money (including his own), and his solid, well-articulated conservative message place him very much in the mix. It’s no accident that he took so many hits from so many directions early in the year, and it’s no accident that he was able to survive them.
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