The traditional wisdom is that New Hampshire and Iowa don’t pick winners, they pick losers – campaigns that fail to pick up steam through January will probably have to fold before they can get to the later, more electorally significant events.
By that logic, there are a certain number of “tickets” out of January. In 2008, there were four major GOP contenders left going into Super Tuesday (Romney, Huckabee, McCain and Paul). There were only two Democracts left (Obama, Clinton). Success in one of the early states is neccesary to get the money and credibility you need to build a major campaign.
With that said, I predict there will be four candidates making it out of January – Romney, Paul, Santorum and Huntsman. Santorum got his ticket “punched” in Iowa – he’s established himself as the credible “Family Values” conservative. Paul has his 20% and probably won’t change. Romney clearly has both the organization and the money to weather a long campaign, and is likely to win both of the first two states.
Huntsman is the surprising one, but I expect him to be New Hampshire (and, by extension, the moderates’s) Santorum – he’ll beat expectations, take 2nd place over Paul by a narrow margin and start to gain some serious attention by voters in some of the early states.
Perry and Gingrich will continue to fight through January, but I think they have been “weighed and found wanting” – Gingrich is not very likeable and Perry continues to come off a little bit unhinged. They’ll wallow through SC and FL, and then withdraw sometime in February. This will all be to Huntsman’s benefit- not neccesarily because the Gingrich/Perry supporters will flock to him, but he will look better and better the smaller the field is. That said, he still won’t be able to win out – Romney has too much momentum, and while Romney and Huntsman’s policies are quite different, I think there personas are so similar that he will have a tough time establishing himself as the anti-Romney. Huntsman will make it out of January, but a poor showing at Super Tuesday or one of the other major primary days will force him out and into an endorsement of Romney.