A recent story I read in print stated that Romney, Perry and Paul are the only three candidates with significant campaign contribution war chests (in that order). The others are no where close. Enik Rising picks up a report that the race for endorsements from leading Republicans is dominated by Romney, with Perry in second place, Newt Gingrich, whose has no money and has staffers who have abandoned him en masse in third place, and Paul in a distant fourth. Cain and Huntsman have received a few promising straw poll and caucus reactions, but have very little in the way of campaign funds or endorsement support. Media coverage of the GOP nomination race increasingly reflects this reality.
Thirteen months from the election, a little more than two months from the start of the primary and caucus season, and about ten months from the end of the primary and caucus season, Romney is the clear front runner by conventional measures with Perry (who came into the race much later) posing the only real credible competition to him. New Jersey Governor Christie's announcement that he does not intend to run in 2012 made this week (probably wise given that he would have to start from a cold stop two weeks before the first votes are cast) further adds to the strength of the positions of Romney and Perry. Despite the half dozen or so other candidates who have been included in early GOP primary debates, the GOP nomination fight looks like a two candidate struggle at this point unless a game changing new candidate comes into the race.
Like most politically engaged Democrats, I see Romney as the greater challenge to President Obama's run for reelection because he is perceived as more moderate and isn't as intellectually challenged as Perry (who, however, clearly has the edge when it comes to the "Elvis" factor), although he clearly does not have the support of the Tea Party activists who are a new powerhouse in the party; they far prefer Perry, not least because Romney's healthcare plan for his state was the primary model for "Obamacare" the government program that Tea Party Republicans despise. Romney's backing comes from the establishment wing of the GOP and it remains to be seen if they have enough muscle in the post-2010 Tea Party surge world to get their man the nomination. There is a decent chance that whichever of the these two fails to get the top spot on the ticket will be the Vice Presidential nominee.
A weak economy and the continuing low grade war in Afghanistan weaken President Obama going into the 2012 election, and the lack of a meaningful Democratic primary opponent, while conserving his resources also deprives him of a way to activate his supporters early. But, Obama's approval ratings aren't particularly dismal for a mid-first term President (Reagan's hit far lower points in his first two years), the public seems far more dissatisfied with the quality of governance that the Republican controlled House of Representatives (with an 8% approval rating, an all time low and also very low re-elect one's own member of Congress ratings), and neither Romney nor Perry are particularly formidable opponents. Perhaps more attractive potential GOP candidates are bearish on their prospects and have chosen not to run for that reason.