My horse in the 2012 Republican nomination race is finally getting some attention. Ron Paul has kept to his business and true to his principles, while all the other Tea Party flaves came and went. Newt's time is still in full blossom, but my sense is that his flavor will be unpalatable to many TP'ers--too unreliable, poor moral sense, too much the man on the white horse for the libertarian flange of the right wing--and many of the supporters of failed candidates like Herman Cain and Rick Perry will drift Paul's way, as someone they can trust at least to uphold his principles--intelligently--whether he has any chance or not.
The latest Iowa poll results have Gingrich at 25%, Paul at 18%, Romney at 16%, but that leaves 41% undecided or clinging to driftwood. I think that Michele Bachmann will stay the course in Iowa and draw about 10%, while about 10% will end up "committed" to non-starters like Rick Santorum, Perry, Huntsman, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, and whatever remains of Cain's candidacy (not officially dead, just practically dead). I believe that Paul, among the three front-runners, will draw the largest share of the remaining 21%, some of whom will be backing lesser candidates but will need to re-group to another candidate when theirs does not meet minimum threshold levels. For one thing, Paul's organization on the ground is superior to Gingrich's, while Romney's organization is flummoxed by its sudden loss of clear front-runner status.
Thus, I now make my official prediction for Iowa: Gingrich 32%, Paul 27%, Romney 21%, Bachmann 11%, Others/Uncommitted 9%. The major media will spin this as a win for Gingrich and Paul and a defeat for the rest. Paul and Gingrich will then battle for a distant second-place finish in New Hampshire a week later. This, and Paul's demonstrated record of fund-raising success, will give him enough impetus to stay in the primaries at least through February and March; all of those, by rule, will have somewhat proportional allotment of delegates.
He should therefore have 10-15% of delegates selected before the "winner take-all" primaries start in April, and potentially 5-7% of delegates if he stayed in the race to the end. This quantity, though small and not enough to get him ever in serious discussion as the nominee, quite possibly could be enough to leave the outcome in doubt if the likely pattern--Gingrich wins big in the South, Romney wins most of the other states--ends up in a close division of delegates.
The question I can't answer is how Paul would utilize his delegate base if he finds himself suddenly in a strategically decisive position. I can't imagine he would want to end his campaign by supporting either one of those guys in such a situation (though I guess he will endorse either once he's won it). In the meantime, for example, Paul logically will spend a lot of time and money going after Gingrich, who is his principal competitor for votes from the right wing. (I would still bet that either Romney or Gingrich would yield to the other, though, taking the VP slot, if it were clear that they could not win--both are consumed with ambition and ideological chameleons.)
Intrade now has Romney with 45% chance of winning the nom (down a third from my last quote here in October), Gingrich up to 35%, Huntsman at 8% (I don't see it), and Paul at 7%, with Bachmann at 2% or so, Santorum at 1%, and nobody else above 0.5%. Though the punditry has missed the significance of Paul's campaign with great consistency, I can't argue that he has a higher chance of ultimately winning than that 7%--in fact, it's probably a bit high. If I were betting, I would've bought into Paul's chances earlier, when he was cheaper (like the 1.7% he had in April), and be looking to take profits the day after the Iowa caucuses, when it will peak.
I would be looking now at a long-shot bet on either Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana or Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, two names that Republi-cons generally of all stripes (and backers of the "Ron Paul Revolution" in particular) could rally behind if Romney-Gingrich looks like a stalemate in the weeks leading up to the convention. Daniels, for example, didn't run after being widely courted because he didn't want to go through the exhausting campaign; Ryan basically said he was too busy being a Congressional scourge. I suspect either would accept the nomination if handed on a silver platter, and neither would be a pushover for President Obama in a general election campaign--Ryan is telegenic and smart, but green; Daniels smart, experienced, and the opposite of telegenic.