IOWA (January 3): Gingrich has been seriously damaged by negative ads, and a less than effective response to those attacks. Once the front-runner, I don't see him finishing better than 4th. Never fear, Gingrich fans, I see him making a comeback starting in South Carolina. Second and third place I see as a close call between the surging Santorum and the perpetually stagnant Romney. I like longshots so I'm picking Santorum to pull off a shocker and edge out Romney for second. That's right, I'm looking at a Ron Paul victory in Iowa. I think the caucus procedure feeds into the passion of his supporters, and he's close enough to pull out a win. It's lack of passion that I see hurting Romney.
NEW HAMPSHIRE (January 10): Now to a state where a lack of passion can be seen as a virtue! I don't see any way Romney fails to win this one. Bachman will either be gone after a disappointing finish in Iowa, or just going through the motions until she drops out after New Hampshire. I don't see Santorum resonating with New Hampshire voters and expect him to finish fourth, or possibly even fifth behind Perry. I know Huntsman is banking on a strong finish in New Hampshire, but I think he'll probably be diappointed, and join Bachman in leaving the race. Gingrich should have been second, but I think he'll only begin his rebound after Iowa, leaving Dr. Paul with another high ranking at second, albeit distant to Romney's first place.
SOUTH CAROLINA (January 21): Far enough from Iowa's damaging advertising blitz, I think Newt will be in recovery mode by the time South Carolina rolls around, I expect a first place finish there. Romney's tactics won't endear him to southern voters, but his first place in New Hampshire will attract some who will see him as the "inevitable" nominee giving him a marginal edge for second, with Paul a very close third. Santorum will round out the field at fourth, with Perry probably sticking around until after Florida, but finishing with less than 2%.
FLORIDA (January 31): The big prize goes to Gingrich who will be in full recovery, and will probably take Florida comfortably. A Rubio endorsement for Romney would make it a closer race, but would indicate Rubio fishing for the Veep nod, and probably wouldn't be enough for Romney to finish higher than second. Ron Paul takes a solid third, Santorum is barely noticeable, Perry is gone, and it's a three man race going forward.
LOOKING AHEAD: This would leave the battle between Romney and Gingrich, with Paul as the gadfly that just won't go away. In most political seasons this would be a two way race with concessions made to Ron Paul to insure that he doesn't mount a third party candidacy, but the times they are a changin', and conventional wisdom may no longer be as dependable in a different world. Besides some of his more radical views, the main thing holding back support for Paul is the sense that he is not a serious candidate... he can't win. A strong showing in the first four primaries will go a long way toward dispelling that view and cause many voters to take a second (or maybe first) look at Ron Paul, as he becomes the beneficiary of what is essentially a weak republican field. The question then is, will Paul capitalize on this by moderating to make himself palatable to a broader range of voters. When running from the fringe, radical positions inspire passion which brings you support, but to broaden his base he'll need to tone it down a bit or he will be discarded. I still see Ron Paul as the only candidate of either party that people are voting FOR, as opposed to merely against someone else, that translates to votes. I think the anger people have with the "politics as usual" status quo is being greatly underestimated, and if Ron Paul can capitalize on that emotion while broadening his appeal and making full use of social media to compensate for his dismissal by the main-stream media, he may actually become a contender. That being said, I think the odds are against that happening. Ironically, I don't think he's a good enough politician to pull it off! That leaves it to Romney and Gingrich to duke it out, and it's way too early to say how that will play out. Romney's strength is that he is unexciting and steady, Gingrich's is that he is intriguing and inspiring... whichever one deviates from those strengths will lose the race.
Of course this is all rather like picking the winners for Sunday's football games, but it's my educated guess. Now that I have my neck on the line I'd love to have some company! Let me know your predictions!