Famed political observer and University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato takes a stab at handicapping the 2012 Republican Presidential candidates:
At the starting gate, all we can do is offer a preliminary assessment of their chances for the Republican nomination by weighing their advantages and disadvantages. The general election is another story. Some candidates who have a good or fair chance to be nominated will be hard-pressed to win in November. Yes, Sarah Palin is a prominent example of the latter principle.
No one can be rated as having an “excellent” chance at winning the nomination (yet someone will eventually win). Mitt Romney, widely considered to be leading the early pack, starts out as a weak frontrunner. Six actual or possible contenders are placed in the First Tier; four more in the Second Tier: four in the Third Tier; and five in the Fourth Tier. Obviously, the nominee is likely to be found in Tiers 1 and 2.
There is only one more thing we know for sure. The ratings will change. Presidential primaries are a demolition derby. Even the top-of-the-line cars can occasionally be put out of commission by a junk heap. To switch political metaphors, dark horses (at least those in Tiers 1 and 2) cannot be written off with anything near certainty. A few actually win, and others run a much stronger race than expected, upsetting the field’s line-up.