What About a Write-in Candidate?

Herman Cain may be getting a bit of a “rally-round-the-martyr-crucified-by-the-liberal-media” effect right now, but it’s hard to imagine him not fading in to memory by when votes are being counted in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Willard Romney is stuck below 30%, and nobody else in the Republican field appears capable of seizing the opportunity to be an effective anti-Romney and steal the nomination. The filing deadlines have passed in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. Republican primary voters are stuck with their current field of a front runner they don’t much like and a bunch of clowns they like even less. It’s too late for a new candidate to enter the field.

Or is it?

In 1976 Jerry Brown and Frank Church both ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. Neither was on a ballot until May, four months after the New Hampshire primary. Despite the late start, both won multiple states. Of the final 17 contests, Jimmy Carter won nine, Church won four and Brown won three. Brown even came within two points of Carter and nine of Church in Oregon, despite having to run as a write-in candidate because he had entered the race too late to meet Oregon’s filing deadline.

Could something like that happen in this Republican nomination battle? Sure. With a field this weak, a well-funded and popular candidate could still enter the race in time to compete fully in Iowa and Nevada. Only Romney and Perry are running reasonably well-funded campaigns, so a well-funded, well-run campaign wouldn’t have much trouble cutting through the airwaves in, say, Florida, and possibly picking up quite a few delegates even with a second or third place finish. A candidate who entered the race soon would have time to get on most of the remaining ballot, and with a few strong early finishes that candidate could become a viable anti-Romney.

But who could be that viable anti-Romney? John Thune and Mitch Daniels couldn’t cut through your sleep if they were standing on your bed. Chris Christie is a paper tiger who knows he can’t win the nomination and may not be able to get reelected governor of New Jersey. Pawlenty never cleared 46% in a statewide election and is still carrying debt. Sarah Palin is about as well-liked as a boil. And Jeb Bush is probably smart enough to know that the baggage he carries from his brother’s presidency means he’d almost certainly lose to Barack Obama.

There’s a plausible path to the Republican nomination for a well-funded, well-organized, popular alternative to Mitt Romney. The problem for Republicans is there doesn’t seem to be anyone who could conceivably become that well-funded, well-organized popular alternative to Mitt Romney.

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