It occurs to me that if the pundit class’s expectations game weren’t so effective at defining the race, the candidate who should clearly be very much ensconced in the top tier is Duncan Hunter. He has performed well at EVERY debate. He has a superb record dating back more than 26 years of supporting a strong defense, cutting taxes, standing up for life, and fighting illegal immigration. In the straw polls where he has had a chance to really do one-on-one campaigning — Arizona, South Carolina, Texas — he has done well, indeed very well. He’s a superb one-on-one campaigner. He also has a good mix of issues in terms of how they should play in New Hampshire and South Carolina. He can grab a lot of California delegates in the new, NON-winner-take-all system there. He is one heck of a nice guy. There’s nothing fake about him. He is a veteran and the father of a soldier (or is it a Marine?). He knows his stuff. And he does terrifically on talk radio.
No, he’s not perfect. He’s a little too protectionist for my tastes — although he explains his position quite well. He hasn’t proved a serious ability to raise money — but then again, that’s largely a result of having no pundits take him seriously enough to give him much press. And occasionally (but not often), he falls into the Bob Dole habit of Congress-speak, talking too much about amendments and bill numbers and legislative process, etc. But if life were fair, he would be considered a top-tier candidate.