The greatest question in the political blogosphere right now is whether Mitt Romney is a dead man walking or the inevitable 2012 Republican candidate. I'm joking, but as I've mentioned before, I think this question is answered pretty easily by looking at how he fared in the 2008 primaries. 2012 will likely be a repeat.
So, the data. Huckabee, of course, won Iowa in an upset, taking nearly 35 percent of the vote; Romney came in second at 25 percent (Fred Thompson and John McCain each netted 13 percent). In 2012, it's conceivable that Romney could be bested by Huckabee again, or a similar socially conservative candidate. But Iowa might not matter that much, at least for Republican presidential politics, since neither Huckabee nor Romney went on to win the nomination.
The New Hampshire primary saw McCain take 37 percent of the vote, Romney 31, and Huckabee 11. In 2012, a McCain-like candidate could conceivably beat Romney, but recent polling shows Romney with a commanding lead. Of course, at the end of the day, it's the number of delegates that matter, and in that respect, all of the early contests add up to about 230 delegates. Not peanuts, but compared to the more than 1,000 delegates at stake on Super Tuesday, not particularly relevant. Romney remained the leading candidate in delegate count until John McCain won Florida; in that contest, Romney only trailed by 5 percentage points.
In fact, eliminating John McCain from just two Super Tuesday contests would instantly give Romney access to an additional 270 delegates. In California, McCain won with 42 percent, Romney held 36, and Huckabee took 11. In New York, McCain took over 50 percent of the vote, while Romney carried a less impressive 27 percent. Huckabee took barely 10 percent. Of course, Huckabee won Georgia and its 72 delegates with McCain and Romney in a statistical tie, McCain beat Romney by nearly 20 points in Illinois (70 delegates at stake), but Romney either won or came in second in Arizona, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri and New Jersey, with about 250 delegates at stake (Huckabee won convincingly in Alabama and Tennessee, about 100 delegates).
So the question for Mitt Romney in 2012 is whether he can beat a generic Republican in most of the Super Tuesday states. The Tim Pawlentys and Mitch Daniels of the world. If those candidates can duplicate McCain's success, then they can win the nomination. Otherwise, Romney has already demonstrated he is competitive, if not the front-runner.