Jamelle Bouie is the latest to point out what’s painfully obvious to all who closely follow politics except maybe major media reporters and producers:*
…with 80 percent of Republican voters undecided, now is too early to discount Rick Perry, or call the election for Mitt Romney. If Perry can improve his campaign, and continue to hammer on Romney’s considerable weaknesses…then he stands a good chance of winning the nomination. For those doubtful, remember – at this point in 2007, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson were the frontrunners for the Republican nomination.
This is largely correct, but I have a quibble and a more substantive qualification. The quibble is about Giuliani and Thompson. Few smart people with at least a modicum of expertise in understanding elections and the Republican party believed either an undisciplined, socially liberal mayor with numerous personal problems or a somnolent former Senator who wouldn’t campaign more than a couple hours a day were frontrunners. But yes, it’s a good reminder that they were polling well at this point in 2007, primarily because they were (other than John McCain) the only other nationally known and seemingly credible figures in the race.
Bouie is right that it’s too early to look at the polls and write off Perry (or maybe even Gingrich) and anoint Romney the nominee. But I think it is significant that Romney is the only candidate in the field besides Gingrich who entered with widespread name recognition. In 2008 he received the most total caucus votes and the second most primary votes. With his name and family history, his tenure as the chair of the Salt Lake City Olympics, a term as governor of Massachusetts, a robust fundraising list from his last run, probably by far the soundest organization of any of the contenders, and most importantly, the fact that he ran a strong campaign for president just four years ago and is well-known to Republican primary voters, Romney should be polling much better than he is.
The rest of the field is so weak that his money and organization probably give Romney a slight edge. Romney may win like McCain: without much fervor from the grass roots. Romney in 2011 would seem a more formidable candidate than Romney in 2007, but he’s not as formidable as McCain in 2007, and nobody else in the current field seems as formidable as Romney or Mike Huckabee were in 2007. So the fact that the one candidate who was already well known, the guy who–like Giuliani–was already a national figure yet seldom polls over 25% against a weak field is the best reason to conclude there is no clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.
* I often can’t tell if reporters and producers w major media are clueless about the details of politics or ignore them to create the stories they want to tell.