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Inside the Boiler Room: Five States Down, many more to go

NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro discuss the Republican nominating season so far and if the other candidates can catch up to the GOP front-runner, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Video edited by NBC's Morgan Parmet.

MARK MURRAY: Welcome to your latest edition of Inside the Boiler Room, I'm NBC's Mark Murray joined by my awesome colleague Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, we are now 5 contests in. Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and now Nevada. What do we make about the whole GOP nominating season so far?

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, I think we know Romney is the front-runner. There's been some bruising battles along the way, through Iowa, New Hampshire, losing Iowa, getting a big victory in New Hampshire, going down to South Carolina and having a big setback there and then rebounding and winning big in Florida, winning big in Nevada. He's got a month here where it looks like a lot of these contests line up for him and it seems like a matter of time before he is the nominee.

MARK MURRAY: One thing about Romney is that he has improved in all these contests since 2008 where he finished second in Iowa, he finished second in New Hampshire--he was able to finish second in Iowa but won New Hampshire this time around. But the whole primary process so far has exposed some weaknesses for Mitt Romney particularly as we look forward to the general election. We have seen some hits from his Republican opponents on some of his biggest vulnerabilities: his work at Bain Capital, his wealth, his income taxes and that has actually all borne out in a brand new Washington Post/ABC poll that shows that his standing has taken a bit of a hit over the past few weeks.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Yeah, I think that it bore out also in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that we had out last week which showed among Independents, this is the key voting bloc in the general election, that he's (President Obama) gone up 20-points with Indepenents since November. This is a huge red flag, it should be a huge warning sign for them, and it is why you are seeing Mitt Romney try to reshape his message back to talking about the middle and middle-class voters. The problem is for him, is that his tax policy, when it lines up with that rhetoric and people start looking at what Mitt Romney says vs. what he would propose, there is a little bit of a difference there. In particular, he cuts taxes proportionally more for the rich than he does for the middle class.

MARK MURRAY: And Domenico, you have crunched the numbers on the turnout too--looking at the turnout in the first five contests as well.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Yeah, turnout has been down. It was up a huge margin in South Carolina, up 36-percent in South Carolina, it was down in Florida by about 13-percent. It was down in Nevada also. So that all has some warning for whoever becomes the Republican nominee on enthusiasm. Especially for Romney, whether or not they will have the enthusiasm necessary in this 'Anybody But Obama' climate on the Republican side, if they will come out in droves and the big numbers that they need to beat Obama in the fall.

MARK MURRAY: We do actually have a long way to go, only a fraction of the delegates have so far been decided. The question is if one of these candidates, and I am looking at Newt Gingrich, can really make a move in these later contests. Of course we have some of the caucus contests coming up on Tuesday, we have primaries in Arizona and Michigan on February 28th. And then comes Newt Gingrich's big opportunity come Super Tuesday, where you are seeing some primaries in southern states where he could actually be able to win.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Now, I'll say this, there are some southern states. But there's 11 states on Super Tuesday, I think that only four of them are southern states, so that doesn't make it a rousing day. He is hoping to get to that day, but then what? He is going to have a February, a split-day on March 6th--

MARK MURRAY: --I think he is looking for a lifeline but that is maybe all that he could get. A lifeline is better than having your campaign end. 

DOMENICO MONTANARO: We'll see. Also, maybe if Rick Santorum can win in Minnesota, win in Missouri, then what does Newt Gingrich say? Maybe does the worm turn a little bit to March 6th where Newt Gingrich winds up thinking he could have looked forward, looked past Santorum and Santorum  picks up a little bit of momentum.MARK MURRAY: Five contests in, many more to go.

Transcribed by NBC's Natalie Cucchiara.