But something we just saw gave us pause: the most recent American Research Group poll in South Carolina has Mitt Romney vaulting out to 29%, ahead of Giuliani and well ahead of Fred Thompson. Whether that's an outlier--other polls, at the beginning of the month showed Mitt 10 points behind Rudy--or a trend, will have to await further polling results.
However, if Romney shows strength in SC, he might just win after all. At present, Flip Flopney leads in Iowa, although Iowa caucus-goers are notoriously volatile. (Significantly, the Huckabee surge in Iowa continues, with the Second Man From Hope in a clear second place in the most recent ARG poll, several points ahead of Giuliani.) Romney also leads in New Hampshire, where he is likely to win given his tenure as the governor next door.
So far, it appears that Romney is running a smart, albeit expensive campaign. Can he keep up the burn rate of dollars?
If Romney wins Iowa, New Hampshire, and then also South Carolina, he is going to be hard to stop. We could easily see Giuliani's campaign melting down at that point (although Florida could save him), along with uncle Fred's. Huckabee, if he comes in second in Iowa and SC, and no worse than fourth in New Hampshire, could hang in there, and perhaps coalesce a last ditch stand against Romney in the mega-primaries, although at that point Romney's money advantage will be a huge asset.
We're surprised at Romney's apparent strength in SC--we're not yet willing to buy it, but the next couple polls will show us something.
There's still a good ways to go. Romney has been spending a lot of money on television in all the early primary/caucus states. As we get closer, the other candidates will start pouring on the television as well. (You Iowa residents better have TiVo!) Also, as with Hillary, if the other candidates perceive Mitt walking away with it, they'll start ganging up on him.
Romney would be wise to focus on South Carolina as much as possible: if he wins, or even gets a strong second, in such a deep south, evangelical state, he will defy the conventional wisdom that a Mormon will never be able to do well in the old confederacy.