With a little more than three months to go before the Iowa caucuses kick off presidential primary season, Republican presidential candidates have already been through a roller coaster of fame and famine.
Volatile would be an understatement in describing a GOP field that has seen candidates skyrocket to national popularity just as quickly as they plummet to second-tier status. Here's a look at the biggest falls from grace that have so far in the Republican presidential field.
As a little-known governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty spent 2010 with one goal in mind: to increase his name recognition. T-Paw blew all other possible GOP contenders out of the water when it came to unofficial campaigning, making frequent trips to Iowa and taking the national stage as much as possible.
After successfully pushing a balanced budget through the Minnesota Legislature that cut spending without raising taxes, Pawlenty took to the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, wooing conservatives with his talk of limited government and a resurging Republican Party. The Minnesota governor's speech got the ball rolling on his presidential campaign, giving Pawlenty a national stage from which to pronounce his policies and raise his name recognition.
With three other big name candidates on the ballot for the CPAC straw poll, Pawlenty came in fourth behind Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin. But national polls showed T-Paw could hold his own in a hypothetical matchup against Palin for the nomination. The Minnesota governor trampled Palin by 35 points.
The ever-campaigning noncandidate Sarah Palin spent the month of June rolling through the Northeast on a "One Nation" bus tour, stoking speculation that she would jump into the Republican presidential race.
The on-again-off-again tour took the Palin family from Washington, D.C., up to New Hampshire, an important early primary state.
Palin sat high in the polls throughout the month. In a June 7 ABC News/ Washington Post poll, Palin came in second behind Mitt Romney, with 17 percent of Republican voters saying they would support the former Alaska governor compared with the 213 percent who said they would opt for Romney. They were the only two potential candidates to garner double-digit support.
As speculation of a possible Palin run grew stale, Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann began to eclipse all other ultra-conservative contenders. After announcing her candidacy June 27, Bachmann's support soared from 3 percent in the June 7 poll to 13 percent in a July 17 ABC News/Washington Post poll.
A strong performance at a June debate helped fuel Bachmann's rise to prominence, where she captured the second-place spot in the polls behind front-runner Mitt Romney. Romney came out a mere 4 percentage points ahead of Bachmann in the July 17 poll.
The momentum surrounding Bachmann, a native-born Iowan, led the Tea Partyer to victory in the August Iowa Straw Poll with 29 percent of the almost 17,000 votes. GOP rival Tim Pawlenty, who had captured the spotlight in 2010, dropped out after a disappointing third-place finish in the straw poll.
Just as Bachmann-fever reached its pinnacle with her straw poll win, Texas Gov. Rick Perry swooped in to steal her thunder. Perry officially announced his presidential bid on the same day as the Iowa poll and within weeks had surged to the top of the polls. Despite not being on the staw poll ballot, Perry snagged more votes than Mitt Romney, who at the time was the front-runner.
Perry's late entrance into the race resulted in an onslaught of media attention and speculation about his chances of surpassing Romney in the polls. The Texas governor's record of job creating and low taxes in Texas won over Tea Partyers, pulling support from candidates like Michele Bachmann. By the Sept. 1 ABC/Washington Post poll, Perry had captured the top spot, beating Romney by 6 percentage points and securing his front-runner status.
Bachmann had fallen back into second-tier status in the polls with 6 percent support compared with Perry's 29 percent. Romney maintained his mid-20s polling numbers, which he has yet to exceed.
Two poor debate performances, an unpopular immigration law and a widely criticized HPV vaccine policy later and Rick Perry's momentum all but evaporated. As Perry's support began to fade, Republicans turned their sights on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Although Christie repeatedly denied his intentions to run for president, conservatives around the country begged him to jump in. His reputation as a straight-talker who took on unions and made big spending cuts in New Jersey ignited support from throughout the Republican Party.
After weeks of will he or won't he rumors, Christie officially declared that he would not, under any circumstances, run for president in 2012. An Oct. 2 ABC/Washington Post poll showed Christie with 10 percent of the vote, putting him in fourth place behind the once-again front-runner Romney and the two-way tie for second between Rick Perry and Herman Cain.
Businessman Herman Cain has now stepped into the spotlight, rising from the depths of 3 percent support in September to 15 percent of Republican voters favoring Cain in October. With his catchy 9-9-9 economic plan and charismatic debate performances, Cain has filled the void left by Bachmann, Perry and Christie.
Cain has the appeal of being a political outsider, having never held elected office, and having a keen business sense, being the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza. His emergence as a top-tier candidate has been swift, but in a race as volatile as this one, it has yet to be seen if Cain can continue to fuel his newfound support.