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Making book on GOP nomination

If you play the odds, the Republican presidential nomination will go to one of these final four: Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul or Scott Walker.

Last April, I calculated the odds for each like this: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 4-to-1; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 6-to-1; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 7-to-1; and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky at 8-to-1.

Ten months later, I’m sticking with the same lineup with just one tweak — flipping the odds for Huckabee and Paul.

The odds of any other candidate — with one caveat — capturing the Republican nomination are minimal. The situation is analogous to the Democratic presidential campaign in 2007. When the top tier is strong — as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards were then — even potentially appealing candidates, such as Joe Biden and former Sen. Chris Dodd, can’t break out of the second tier. Numerous Republican candidates face similar trouble this year: There’s no room to move up.

What’s my caveat? If for any reason Bush craters or doesn’t run, some Republican leaders may beseech Mitt Romney to join the competition. (A 2016 Romney candidacy couldn’t be more awkward than the last one.)

The current top four represent different elements of the party, just as the Final Four in the NCAA college basketball tournament represent different regions. In the establishment bracket is Bush; Walker represents a Midwestern effort to span the party’s conservative and establishment wings; Paul is the candidate promising to broaden the conservative base and Huckabee leads the evangelical conservative bracket,

Any of the four could falter — and at least three will. There is only one sure bet: If a little over a year from now, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is marching toward the Republican nomination, this column will not be reprised.

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg columnist.

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