For all the attention Rudy Giuliani got with that Pat Robertson endorsement earlier this week, the numbers increasingly suggest Romney is going to be the GOP nominee. According to Pollster.com, Romney's up 14 points in Iowa (28.6 to Huckabee's 14.8; Rudy is third at 13.7), has a steady and slightly widening lead in New Hampshire (28.8 to Rudy's 21.4), and, perhaps most interestingly, has begun to surge in South Carolina lately (he's now in a close third at 16.1, behind Thompson's 18.9 and Rudy's 19.8; Romney was languishing around 10 percent there only a few months ago.) Michigan, too, is looking better and better for him. Pollster.com shows Romney in second with 19.5 to Rudy's 21.7, but Rudy has been trending down there for the last several months, while Romney has been trending up.
On top of the poll numbers, Romney has the personal resources to hold Rudy at bay spending-wise, particularly in a tough fundraising climate for Republicans. So while it's true that Rudy hasn't begun his big advertising blitz yet, Romney can respond with overwhelming force once he does.
Right now the only real threat I see to Romney is Huckabee in Iowa. But I think Huckabee would have to win their outright to derail the Romney train (something that's certainly possible, but not likely). Even a pretty close second by Huckabee still leaves Giuliani third there at best. And, as I've said before, that probably freezes the status quo in New Hampshire, which means a Romney win there, followed by likely wins in Michigan and South Carolina.
Actually, there is one other thing that could derail Romney, though I'm not sure how it would play out as a practical matter: All the rival campaigns (particularly McCain and Giuliani) seem to loathe Romney. The feeling seems to be, "If we don't win, then we at least want that guy to lose." As I say, I don't entirely know what the upshot is, but maybe you can imagine some scenario where McCain or Giuliani starts fading and decides to sacrifice himself to take out Romney.
Short of one of those two scenarios, I think Romney's going to be the nominee.
P.S. What can one say about Thompson--other than maybe what Chris has already said? I just don't see how that guy finishes fourth in Iowa and fifth or sixth in New Hampshire (he's currently fifth and could easily be overtaken by the now-loaded Ron Paul) and somehow wins South Carolina and/or Florida. His new model of campaigning increasingly looks like a very old model of campaigning--which is also known as "losing."
P.P.S. Credit due to Isaac Chotiner, the Eric Stoltz of TNR, for nudging me on about this item.