In 1992, the heavyweights of the Democratic Party chose not to run, largely because early on when candidates were making decisions, President George H.W. Bush had very strong approval ratings as a result of the Gulf War. So, Mario Cuomo, Lloyd Bentsen, Al Gore and Dick Gephardt all took a pass only to kick themselves for the next eight years as a young whippersnapper from Arkansas jumped in and ran the table.
Similarly, this time around, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, - and, yes, even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, have to be having some sleepless nights as they watch the circus that has unfolded and realize that the nomination might have easily been theirs.
Iowa is likely to produce a muddled result. We could very easily see five or even all six candidates finish with between 10-20% of the vote.
It is also quite likely that Ron Paul will win. It's possible that Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry or even Rick Santorum could get a last minute surge of evangelical support to produce a finish that would keep their candidacies afloat awhile longer. Mitt Romney has played his cards perfectly, keeping expectations low while sneaking in the back door with some money and organization that could produce a top three finish. If he surprises and wins, the nomination will be his early.
New Hampshire has the next chance to straighten things out. But, this is the state that loves to turn conventional wisdom on its head, so don't be surprised to see Jon Huntsman come alive and make a strong appeal to the independent voters who can vote in the GOP primary and make up 44% of the vote. The highly influential Union Leader newspaper has endorsed Newt Gingrich and will be making life hell for Romney.
If Gingrich stops bleeding and stabilizes, he could do well enough in South Carolina and Florida to ensure that nomination becomes a long, drawn-out process. Ron Paul is likely to forge on accumulating delegates through Super Tuesday so that he could wreak havoc on the convention.
The dream for reporters and others is a brokered convention where no one seizes the nomination and someone like a Jeb Bush steps in and saves the day. More likely, Romney, thanks to superior discipline, money, organization, and having been through the drill before, will wrap this thing up by Florida, and once again prove the conventional wisdom that in Republican primaries, the guy who has been standing next in line the longest usually gets the nod (see Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole and John McCain).
Like 1992 there will be a third party candidacy. The question is not if, but who. The Americans Elect platform, which will nominate a unity ticket in June, already has more than half the signatures required to get on the ballot in all 50 states.
And then it's going to get interesting.
Mark McKinnon is global vice chair of creative at Hill+Knowlton Strategies.