In the Republican presidential primary race, enthusiasm frequently turns toward the candidates not in the race.
And as the August Republican national convention hastily sneaks up on the field, the fact that one candidate hasn't yet run away with momentum has the media, pundits, even the candidates themselves talking about generating the appeal to defeat President Obama in November, or having someone else jump in the race.
"Just when you thought this race for the nomination couldn't get any more volatile. it seems like it potentially could," said Shane D'Aprile, editor of Campaigns and Elections Magazine.
Romney has been the presumptive frontrunner throughout the seemingly interminable campaign season, but despite his hometown roots and his father having been governor of Michigan for three terms, Romney's numbers in the state are dragging ahead of the Feb. 28 vote. Michigan, with 30 delegates after being penalized for voting early holds its election alongside Arizona one week before the March 6 Super Tuesday mega-vote.
Santorum has been up by three to 10 points in Michigan in the last four polls tracked by Real Clear Politics. On average, Santorum gets 36.6 percent of polling compared to Romney with 30 percent in the state, according to RCP. Nationally, Santorum is up by an average 6.6 points in an average of national polls tracked by RCP.
The former Massachusetts governor is now retooling, planning a big economic speech this week at the stadium where the Detroit Lions play. In the era of "go big or go home," Romney is doing both.
But will it be enough?
"If Romney can't find a way to turn this thing around and win Michigian I think this question of a brokered convention a contested convention, whatever you want to call it, is a much more salient question," D'Aprile told Fox News.
Romney challenger Gingrich, without referencing the possibility of a brokered convention, agreed that the struggle will be tough for anyone who loses at home.
"If any of the three loses our home state -- if Santorum loses Pennsylvania, Romney loses Michigan, or I lose Georgia -- you have, I think, very, very badly weakened candidacies."
But could a brokered -- or contested -- convention be in the cards? And could New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels or anyone else come in to save the day?
"I don't see how that can happen," Ryan, R-Wis., the chairman of the House Budget Committee, told NBC's "Meet the Press." "It's just too late, I think."
"I've heard it, but, man, that is an unbelievable scenario. It'd be really hard to achieve that," former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told Fox News in a recent interview.
"I think it's about as remote as life on Pluto," said Karl Rove, George W. Bush's chief strategist and a Fox News contributor.
A brokered convention results when a candidate fails to obtain a majority of delegates and a feverish bout of backroom negotiating goes on to obtain the support needed to push a candidate over the top.
The last brokered convention for Republicans was in 1948, when the party nominated Thomas E. Dewey on the third ballot -- in case anyone remembers how that headline turned out, Dewey did not defeat Harry Truman in that party contest.
To avoid anything resembling a replay in 2012, a GOP candidate needs to secure 1,144 of the 2,286 delegates. So far, according to The Associated Press count, Romney has 123 delegates, Santorum has 72, Gingrich 32 and Paul 19.
A contested convention could be "disastrous," D'Aprile said, because delegates chosen by their candidates "feel very strongly about their candidate,"
"You've got a deadlock scenario," he said. "I think it's significantly harder for someone to walk on the convention stage out of nowhere, given the makeup of the delegates they may be facing. I think that's a scenario for potential disaster for the party. I don't know how you come out with an actual consensus candidate from there."
Before that happens, the candidates will plod along to create whatever intensity they can generate.
"We don't know when the end is, whether it's going to be May, June, July or August," Paul told CNN on Sunday. "So we just have to, you know, wait and see so that, in my mind, I anticipate it's going to go on for a while."
"You know, I have been through Tim Pawlenty, then Michele Bachmann, and then Herman Cain one, and then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain the second time, and now we have Santorum," Gingrich told "Fox News Sunday." "And we're just going to keep moving forward gathering delegates. We're looking forward very much to Super Tuesday." .
Putting to rest the notion of a weakened GOP, Daniels told CNN that whoever it is -- and whenever a candidate is nominated --the race will return to "a binary choice between a failed presidency" filled with policies "detrimental to job growth and investment and risk taking" and a Republican alternative.