On Wednesday night, debate viewers will see the now-familiar four: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Some of those watching, though, will still be dreaming of Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan or Mitch Daniels.
As Romney's campaign has faltered and his candidacy has lost the aura of inevitability, there has been as much talk about the possibility of a white knight candidate making a late entry into the race as there is about one of the remaining three candidates emerging as the Republican nominee.
And then, there is the notion of the nomination being decided ultimately at a brokered convention, something that hasn't happened in decades. A loss by Romney in Michigan would probably only increase such speculation.
Why? Polls have shown that Republican voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the field of candidates. In a recent CNN poll, the number who were not very satisfied or not satisfied at all had jumped to 44%. In a January NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, more Republicans graded the GOP field as weak than strong.
A new Gallup poll shows that 55% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters wish someone else were running. But that same poll found that those voters would much rather have a nominee who had secured enough delegates to win the nomination before the August convention than to have the nomination decided in Tampa.
So how real is that possibility? For now, there is no Republican even seriously entertaining the idea of getting into the race -- at least not publicly. And even if one did, it would be mathematically impossible for that candidate to clinch the nomination before the convention.
According to information provided by the Federal Election Commission, the filing deadlines for presidential primaries have passed in all but 12 states. That list does include delegate-rich California and Texas. But even securing 100% of the delegates from all 12 -- highly unlikely -- would get you only 40% of the delegates needed.
Which brings us back to the idea of a brokered convention. In a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday, 37% of voters said it would be good for the party if someone were nominated at the convention who had not run in the primaries, while 48% said it would not be. A majority -- 51% -- said it was not likely at all for this scenario to happen.
There was no clear favorite among potential new candidates who might run; 32% would pick Christie, 20% each for Palin and Bush, and 15% picked Daniels.
"Republicans' reluctance to support a brokered convention could result from a respect for the process and the rules that govern the nomination choice. It may also stem from a belief that a brokered convention could damage the party even though it could fulfill their wish of having someone outside of the four current candidates be the Republican nominee," Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones writes.