In the realclearpolitics.com average of recent polls Romney gets 16.6% and Mike Huckabee 16.4%. They’re followed by Donald Trump with 12.9%, Sarah Palin with 10.6%, Newt Gingrich with 7.7%, etc. In polls conducted in April and May Romney gets between 11% and 19%. The way I read it he’s a contender, not a front-runner. And not necessarily a strong contender: with greater name recognition than some other potential candidates he's not running far ahead of them.
But wasn’t he the runner-up in the 2008 race for the Republican nomination, and don’t Republicans always nominate the candidate who was the runner-up last time? The answer to both questions is, not necessarily. Romney got more voters than any other candidate except John McCain in the 2008 Republican caucuses and primaries. But it wasn’t a close second: McCain got 42%, Romney got 21% and Mike Huckabee got 20%. And Huckabee actually got quite a lot more delegates (270) than Romney (189). So much for the idea that Romney was the clear runner-up.
What about the tendency of docile, order-obsessed Republicans always voting for the candidate next in line? Well, I suppose the stereotype has some basis in fact. But, as I wrote in my April 26 Examiner column, there are only six cases since something like the current nominating system came into place in the 1970s of the Republicans nominating the next guy in line. And in all of these cases, I would argue, the nominee won because of other much more important factors or the nominee’s win was a very close run thing.