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Who’s the Frontrunner? Ask Mitt.

The most telling moment in tonight’s Republican presidential debate came at the start of the second hour when the candidates were given the opportunity to ask questions of their opponents. The result was that the majority of the contenders posed their query to Mitt Romney.  This was merely the confirmation of what we already had discovered by that point in the evening. Romney is the clear frontrunner with no one else even close.

By that point we had also learned that this was not going to be the night when Rick Perry began his comeback. Perry followed up his three previous poor debate performances with yet another weak showing. He looked uncomfortable and rambled at times even when served up a softball that he could have used to attack Romney. Perry may stay in the race but tonight he again proved himself unequal to the task of running for president.

Though telling points were scored at his expense, Herman Cain gained as much as Perry lost. Cain’s “9-9-9” rants didn’t stand up to questioning, but his unflappable nature and ability to rattle off one-liners allows him to rise above criticism. It will be no surprise if the next polls confirm that Cain has eclipsed Perry as the leading conservative alternative to Romney.

That ensures a lively campaign as Cain continues to entertain viewers with his “simple” tax plan. But it also ensures that Romney will waltz to the nomination.

Cain might become the Mike Huckabee of the 2012 election as Perry collapses and Bachmann and Santorum (both of whom had strong debates) fail to catch fire. But though Huckabee won Iowa, he failed virtually everywhere else. Cain is unlikely to do any better.

Romney didn’t have his best debate but even with a few stumbles, he still appeared to have a far better command of the issues and economics than his competition. The fact is Perry was the only potentially viable alternative to Romney in the Republican field. His collapse only feeds the notion that Romney’s nomination is inevitable. Romney began the night riding the momentum of his endorsement by Chris Christie. He left the auditorium that much closer to the presidency. As the question segment proved, even his competitors seemed to agree.