The State of the Race for the Republicans
Here is my best guesses on the primary for God's Own Party (GOP).
Iowa is Ron Paul's best chance. It is the smallest primary which means one doesn't need wide support just fanatical support and the Paul supporters are fanatical, if they are anything. I think it will Romney or Paul but that Paul may see a last minute drop in support. While Iowa is first it is actually one of the less important races because of the small number of voters involved.
Remember that if Iowa was important then Huckabee should have been the GOP candidate in 2008, McCain, the ultimate winner, was tied in 3rd place with Fred Thompson behind Huckabee and Romney. In 1996 Dole was only slightly ahead of bigot Pat Buchanan, whose views most closely match Paul's views. Buchanan's vote then is similar to what Paul is polling now. In 1988 Iowa picked Dole, then Pat Robertson with the ultimate winner, George H.W. Bush coming in third. In 1980 they picked Bush over Reagan. Since 1980, the final winner had opposition in 5 of the elections, with no opposition in 3. Iowa Republicans only picked the ultimate nominee twice, picking a loser three times. I don't think Iowa means much in picking the winner, but it could bust a loser.
If Ron Paul and Romney take the first two places, with Gingrich in 3rd place, it can hurt him. I don't think it will help Paul much, but I think it can hurt Gingrich significantly.
New Hampshire is the first real primary, but also one of the smallest and thus one of the easies to campaign in. A lot of candidates put an emphasis hoping to start a stampede in their favor. New Hampshire picked McCain in 08. In 2004 Bush was really running uncontested. In 2000 NH picked McCain over Bush thus picking a loser. In 1996 they picked Pat Buchanan, whose campaign went nowhere. In 1992 Bush won over the very weak Buchanan. in 1988, Bush won over Dole. In 1984 Reagan was unopposed and Reagan won in 1980. In the significant contested races NH picked the final candidate twice. While more important than Iowa is still a relative unimportant race in my opinion. I think Romney will win New Hampshire.
South Carolina is the first of the bigger states with a primary. I think the race there will be between Gingrich and Romney. Both offend evangelicals because of their religion. Gingrich is part of the "anti-Christ" Catholic Church and Romney is part of the Mormon "cult." At this point Gingrich has to win. If he loses both Iowa and New Hampshire the perception will be that the parade is moving past him. That will reduce his vote in South Carolina. If Paul picks up in the polls because a perception that he is stronger than he is, he could take away enough points from Gingrich that Romney could come in first. By this time it will be apparent that Bachmann, Huntsman and Santorum are going nowhere. Their support will be dropping quickly. Ron Paul should in third place in South Carolina sending the message to Republicans that the choice is Romney or Gingrich.
Next up is Florida, where Gingrich has a lead at this time, Romney is in second and Ron Paul is a very distant third. With Paul's vote totals seeming to fall, in New Hampshire and South Carolina, he should see them falling even more in Florida. Gingrich is posed to win Florida which will give his campaign some life again. If Romney comes closer to Gingrich than currently expected the lose will not hurt him much. At this point I think the race will clearly be between Romney and Gingrich.
Next up the Nevada caucus. Another small state but one where Romney is leading with Gingrich not far behind. Paul is a distant third there. If he picks up it will probably be an Gingrich's expense. Both Gingrich and Paul attract the more rabid conservatives in the GOP. So Paul is more likely to hurt Gingrich than hurt Romney. A Romney win here is likely giving a slight boost to his campaign over Gingrich.
The Maine caucus is next. It is a small state, which often means Paul's fanatical followers have an edge. But the Maine caucus is not relevant. The attendees nominate delegates and those delegates only go to a convention in May where they will vote on a presidential candidate. Exactly who will get those votes is not clear until May so this will have little impact on how the race is perceived, helping to push one candidate or the other.
The Colorado Republican caucus is still relatively small. Gingrich is ahead at this time. But by February 7th, a lot of can happen. If Romney was doing better than originally anticipated he could move into a closer race. Ron Paul won't be significant here. I think the race is going to still be pretty close by this time. The race is going to be clearly a race between Romney and Gingrich. Ron Paul's followers will be screaming that the "Insiders," "Establishment," "Bankers" or whichever conspiracy theory they lean toward were responsible for Paul's clear demise in the election. Why? Because the Texas Messiah himself can do no wrong in their eyes.
Closer to February I will reconsider the race. At this point I would guess that Romney will be the ultimate candidate but there is too much that can happen before then.