Maybe the lines have been drawn, but they're now being re-aligned. Tom Tancredo starts it off by being the first major candidate to announce he's stepping out of the race. On the way out, he paused long enough to hand his endorsement to Mitt Romney.
It's interesting that he chose Romney. Clearly, Duncan Hunter is the strongest of all remaining candidates when it comes to advocating border security. Then again, Hunter may be the next candidate to bow out. If Tancredo had given his endorsement to Hunter, what would he have accomplished? Romney, on the other hand, does have a reasonable record on Tancredo's favorite issue and has a chance at taking home all the marbles.
Tancredo's endorsement doesn't create a huge advantage for Romney since Tancredo's campaign never really gained traction. But, border security is still a major issue with Americans and the endorsement does lend credibility to Romney on a key platform issue that he needs to counter the perception of Giuliani's strong 9-11 leadership, and as a stick in Giuliani's eye when it comes to his record on illegal immigration.
So, who will be next? Ron Paul and Alan Keyes are in the race on principle. They want to get their messages out, so they won't leave anytime soon so long at they have money to show up at debates. The next candidate to drop out will probably be Duncan Hunter followed by Fred Thompson after a couple of primaries. Hunter, like Trancredo, will probably back Romney. Again, it won't have a huge impact, but does bolster Romney's credibility among strong national security advocates and gives Romney some needed support on foreign policy issues. Thompson is a little harder to predict and a lot rides on how long he stays in the race. Most likely, Huckabee will be the first to show a significant drop in popularity in the early primaries which will encourage Thompson to line up behind Romney. This will cause a significant group of conservatives to shift into Romney's column thereby further weakening Huckabee who will have no money to stay in the game. Where do Huckabee's followers go? Most will go to Romney making McCain supporters the wild card in the race between Romney and Giuliani.
Of course, a lot rides on how long candidates will wait to step out of the race. The longer they hold out, the more it hurts Romney and gives the edge to Giuliani, not that Romney is hurting for support. In the meantime, undecideds, who still play a major role, will begin deciding based on who emerges as front-runners. Perhaps they're the biggest wild card of all.
As events unfold the next couple of months, watch for the realigning of candidates because that's where most of the supporters will go which, undoubtedly, colors the perceptions of late-deciders.