Many Republican insiders believe Rick Perry's campaign is on the verge of imploding after some shaky debate performances and a stunning defeat at the hands of longshot Herman Cain in a Florida straw poll over the weekend. Perry still leads the GOP field in national polls, but the Texas governor's stumbles appear to have opened a door for his closest rival, Mitt Romney. Many staunch conservatives still despise the once pro-choice Romney, whose health care reforms in Massachusetts provided a model of sorts for President Obama's controversial law. But is Romney once again the surest bet to win the Republican presidential nomination?

Romney is the GOP's unlikely frontrunner: Romney is "wildly vulnerable," says Jonathan Chait at New York. To knock him out, all Perry or any other Republican in good standing has to do is deliver scripted attacks against his record on health care and tax hikes. Yet Perry, "the walking embodiment of the Republican id," just can't pull it off. It's as if "Romney is protected by some invisible force-field, which incapacitates the brain of any foe who approaches him."
"How lucky is Mitt Romney?"

Hold on. Perry is still the favorite: The Texas governor's image has taken a beating "on issues like HPV vaccination and immigration," says Scott Galupo at U.S. News. And his latest debate performance was disastrous. But the GOP base hates Romney, and it "is not going to be bullied into backing the electable, establishment-approved horse." Everybody was too quick to crown Perry the "undisputed frontrunner," but they're also being too quick to conclude that "he's toast."
"Rick Perry-Mitt Romney battle far from finished"

In the end, Romney's slow-and-steady strategy will prevail: Perry, like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann before him, is one of those "shooting stars who burn brightly but briefly," says Reid Wilson at National Journal. But Romney, the experienced presidential campaigner, started out as the "odds-on frontrunner," and he's still raising as much campaign cash as the rest of the field combined, with the first nominating contests just four months away. If the more-conservative Perry can't get it together — and fast — Romney's "experience, skill, and fundraising prowess" will help him capture the nomination.
"Romney the slow and steady"