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Other view: The GOP race is Romney's to lose

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We won't predict any presidential nomination other than Barack Obama's.

We will, though, project that the Republican nomination now is Mitt Romney's to lose. Which he could.

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That said, Tuesday night's results from Iowa's caucuses sealed Wednesday's inconvenient realities for other candidates who have marketed themselves as anti-Romneys. As a group, their prospects have never looked as bleak as they do right now. Just as Romney's prospects have never looked better.

Romney's victory over Rick Santorum by eight votes statewide had pundits tut-tutting Wednesday that the former Massachusetts governor hadn't yet vanquished the rest of the field. File that under True but Off-Point: Romney finished first in a state where he was given up for dead so often that he should have traveled with a hand-hewn casket from the Trappist monks outside Dubuque.

Remember, the certainty through much of 2011 was that some other, not-so-stiff Republican would upstage Romney in Iowa: The state looked so foreboding to the frontrunner that for months he rarely campaigned there. When none of that materialized, the arrival of rootin'-tootin' Rick Perry supposedly condemned Romney to a Texas-style hanging. Then came Newt Gingrich's allegedly lethal candidacy, with the Georgian burying Romney in public opinion polls.

Instead, Romney won Iowa -- and he's favored to win New Hampshire's primary this week. Gingrich and Perry -- we'd never say these two are "humbled," but they're running on fumes.

If Romney positions himself as the unreconstructed Eastern establishment Republican he has been throughout his career, he invites a more conservative, third-party candidate to complicate the Nov. 6 general election. If he tacks too far to the right to blunt that threat, he frightens independent voters fed up with the antics of the most rancorous tea partiers (see Walsh, Joe).

Until now, Republican candidates have been arguing about which of them is best suited to defeat Barack Obama. The challenge now for Romney as he tries to build on his Iowa victory is to show not only that he can lead his party, but define it.

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