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GOP race one of shooting stars (Bachmann, Perry, Cain), steady constants (Romney, Paul)

Published: Saturday, Nov. 19 2011 11:12 p.m. MST

Republican presidential candidates former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, left, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, businessman Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, pose before a Republican presidential debate at Oakland University.

Paul Sancya, Associated Press

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One by one, candidates jumped to the front, and one by one, most of the newly minted frontrunners vanished from the lead, often in a tailspin. Since the spring, the shooting star has been a regular feature of the Republican presidential race.

Now that the long runup to the first real voting is nearly over — fewer than 50 days remain until the Iowa caucus — it's easy to look back on the past nine months and find some constants. One fixture, ironically, has been the presence of a comet, bursting brightly and then dimming. There also have been some fixed constellations — Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman Jr., each has polled consistently, Romney at or near the top, Paul in the middle and Huntsman at about 1 percent.

As should be expected before the first votes are cast, the eventual Republican nominee remains in doubt. An average of major polls compiled by realclearpolitics.com shows Romney with a .7 percentage-point lead over Herman Cain for the GOP nomination.

However, if we've learned anything, it's that nothing is a given in this race.

No more than four months ago, Michele Bachmann was on the rise coming off a win at the Ames Straw Poll. It was the second-largest turnout in the history of the straw poll, and Bachmann looked like she would be able to take a chunk of the Republican vote as a leading Tea Party candidate.

Enter Rick Perry.

On August 13 Rick Perry caused a media stir and Tea Party rejuvenation as he threw his hat into the ring. Being the social conservative Republicans were looking for, as well as someone experts thought could challenge Romney on economic issues, Perry's numbers skyrocketed. Matthew Dowd, a former strategist for former President George W. Bush, told the New York Times that Perry's campaign would go big or go home.

"He either gets in and gets through the gauntlet of the first month or so and consistently moves forward and wins the nomination, or he's got this terrific flameout," Mr. Dowd said. "There's no middle ground."

Almost prophetic.

The night before the first "Tea Party Republican debate," CNN reported Perry to have 30 percent of the GOP favor. However, Perry proved Dowd correct by overseeing a campaign implosion and dropping more than 20 percentage points amongst likely GOP voters. The nosedive followed poor debate performances where Perry was seen as too soft on illegal immigrants by offering them tuition breaks, requiring 12-year-old girls in Texas to be vaccinated against HPV and then forgetting one of the government agencies he would cut — humorously spoofed by Saturday Night Live.

As Perry's numbers fell, former Godfather's pizza CEO Herman Cain rose to the top. He came up with a "9-9-9" tax plan that opponents targeted as flawed, yet bold. During the seventh Republican debate, Bachmann alluded to the "6-6-6" mark of the beast from the Bible, saying "the devil's in the details," while Jon Huntsman added, "I thought it was price of a pizza when I first heard it."

Yet Cain's proposals seemed to have a draw on the Republican base.

"My message of common-sense solutions is resonating with people," Cain said in an interview found at The Washington Post. "People around the country are starting to know who I am and starting to identify me with solutions, not rhetoric."

Solutions however, could not save Cain from allegations of sexual harassment which CBS News reports have finally caught up with the former CEO. As an article by Politico shows, Cain led the field with 40 percent of the likely vote on Nov. 6, yet by Wednesday of that week his numbers had dropped to 19 percent.

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