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GOP presidential debate fallout: Is Mitt Romney becoming inevitable?

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“If not an inside-the-park home run, it was at least a stand-up triple,” said conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin in a blog post titled “Romney Crushes the Field.”

In reality Romney isn’t inevitable, of course. While he leads again in polls of likely GOP voters, his margin is small, and his total vote remains low for a front-runner. As of Wednesday morning, the RealClearPolitics rolling average of polls has him in first but as the choice of only 21.7 percent of Republicans.

Thus, the other storyline of Tuesday night’s Bloomberg/Post debate was the competition to be the primary conservative challenger to the front-runner. For the moment that mantle appears to have fallen to businessman/talk show host Herman Cain.

Once again, Mr. Cain proved to be a shrewd marketer, repeating over and over the name and simple concept of his 9-9-9 tax plan. Cain was the first of the candidates to field a question, and he worked 9-9-9 into his first three sentences – twice.

But with status comes burdens, and Cain was clearly the new Rick Perry – the target of the peloton’s attacks. His tax plan would eliminate the current Internal Revenue Service code, replacing it with a 9 percent tax on businesses, a 9 percent tax on personal income, and a 9 percent national sales tax. That last part – the national sales tax – was the particular target of the field’s ire.

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