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Politics

After Iowa, Romney Poised to Be Republican Pick

The race for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination will be over quickly, despite what you hear from the pundits.

All the talk about Republicans facing a drawn-out, bloody process to select a presidential candidate, perhaps even a brokered convention? File it away with the false starts, deflated trial balloons and fictions we've seen and heard this year, along with the bios of candidates who were going to relegate Mitt Romney to also-ran status.

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The list of those who auditioned for the role of "Not Romney" is so long, it reads like a parody of a holiday favorite starring Santa's reindeer: Now Palin, now Daniels, now Perry and Bachmann. On Gingrich, on Cain, on Paul and Santorum.

It was all for nothing. Mitt Romney will win the Republican nomination, and he'll wrap it up fairly quickly. No muss, no fuss and—carve this one in stone—no brokered convention.

The former Massachusetts governor didn't have to win Tuesday's race-opening caucuses in Iowa, but since he did, albeit narrowly, the race will be over almost before it starts. He's a lock next week's New Hampshire primary. And by the time Super Tuesday rolls around in early February, his campaign's superb organizational skills and his unflappable manner will leave his challengers in the dust.

Even if Romney had finished second or third in Iowa, the primary calendar would give him an edge. He has enough money to compete in every state and enough staff to make sure he competes everywhere, getting on every ballot.

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In contrast, if former House Speaker Newt Gingrich can't reverse his recent slide in Iowa, his money will start to dry up. And Gingrich has already suffered the embarrassment of not qualifying for the ballot in Virginia, where he now lives. Those problems will be magnified in February, when multiple primaries are held on the same day or in close succession—assuming Gingrich makes it that far. Don't be surprised if he doesn't.

Gingrich's slide has come as Ron Paul and Rick Santorum have surged. At least one of them will gain some momentum coming out of Iowa, but voters' concerns about their electability mean both will remain long shots for the Republican nomination. Their views on many issues are too conservative to appeal to independents in a showdown with President Obama. And no Republican can beat the incumbent without help from large numbers of voters not already committed to one party or the other.

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Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann? Their moment has passed. They're done, no matter how long they go through the motions. Jon Huntsman? Also an also-ran.

The only real suspense in the GOP campaign: Who Romney chooses as his running mate. It's not likely to be any of the above. You don't spend all of 2011 bashing a guy and then get rewarded with a chance to be vice president. (Unless you are George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan is doing the picking, that is.)

Romney is likely to go for someone who can give his candidacy a geographic boost—think Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Or someone who can help Republicans attract Hispanic votes—Rubio again. Or someone who can help Romney mend fences with the GOP's tea party wing, which has snubbed him all along—you guessed it, Rubio. Romney might not go there, and Rubio might not be interested, but he brings more 2012 help to the table than anyone else.

Rubio has something else going for him, too. He's just 40. If he serves two terms in a Romney White House, he can run himself in 2020 and still be under 50. If Romney loses, Rubio will get valuable battle testing in this campaign, plus a few more years of Senate experience, before running on his own in 2016.

There will be plenty of drama later in 2012, of course, when Romney and Obama start focusing on November—and on each other. But at this stage, the Republican race is only startling to the talking heads, who need to maintain the appearance of a contest to fill time and space in the round-the-clock news cycle.

If they told you now that Romney was a cinch for the Republican nomination, what else would they breathlessly banter about for the next few months?

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