Taking a step back from the various state polls, and looking at the flow of the calendar itself, something starts to become clear: If a person had sat down to write a primary calendar, designed around the goal of making things hard for Romney, they could not do much better than the current one.
It is, of course, too early to know what will happen. But on the other hand, if the current trends do end up continuing — and if his new main rival, Newt Gingrich, does not collapse — Romney may be on the verge, despite his long march of running for president in 2008 to now, of having a very rough time in January.
The earliest contests in January are mostly in territory that is simply not a natural fit for Romney. Things turn around in February, with primaries and caucuses that could be better for him — but by then, if current polling trends holds out, the damage could be irreparable.
So let's take a look at the first states.
- Iowa, January 3: Newt Gingrich is leading all the polls, with Ron Paul increasingly taking 2nd place.
- New Hampshire, January 8: The Granite State still looks like a bright spot for Romney, but this small light may dim if Newt continues to nip at his heels and whittle away Mitt's lead.
- South Carolina, January 21: Gingrich now looks to be running away with this primary, and an especially crushing loss for Romney may deliver a potentially fatal blow to what's left of Romney's "air of inevitability".
Now before we go on, let's take a closer look at what's missing. Remember the original plan of both the RNC and DNC to ensure the "First Four" states' place at the top of the primary calendar? Yes, I know, it seems like an eternity ago. But now, this is where "The Great Nevada GOP Fold of 2011" comes in to stomp on Mitt Romney's campaign. At this point, a momentum boosting Nevada caucus win would look awfully attractive to Team Mittens. But since RNC poohbahs teamed up with New Hampshire election officials to essentially bully Nevada Republicans into paying the price of Florida's original sin (remember, it was Florida jumping the gun yet again that started this mess), our GOP caucus is now scheduled for February 4. And as we're about to see...
- Florida, January 31: Newt Gingrich may end up thanking his lucky stars for Amy Tarkanian's folly! He now sports a commanding lead in all the recent primary polls, and winning Florida's media-centric primary may be the perfect way to wrap up a great January for the new "tea party darling".
Again, Nevada's GOP caucus isn't until February 4. And by then, the damage may already be too great for Romney to recover. What was once a sure bet for Romney to gain momentum and bragging rights will probably turn into much ado about nothing. And what was once touted as a potential showcase for local Republicans may end up turning into President Obama's last laugh.