The most recent USA Today/Gallup poll shows a huge drop in support for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney while a relatively politically untested former senator who is best known as a television actor has moved into third place in the Republican Party's nominating race for the presidency. The New York Sun's online editor Ryan Sager, who somewhat predicted this shift last week, says that social conservatives within the party are looking for an alternative to Romney. This is where Law & Order star and former senator Fred Thompson comes in, although he's yet to declare his candidacy. It's also important to note that former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani took a hit as well:
So, why the hit to Mr. Romney? Well, his candidacy has been foundering anyway, and now Mr. Thompson could present an acceptable social-conservative alternative (as I wrote in this column). That all but negates the entire rationale of a Romney candidacy (i.e. "I'm the real conservative!" [-- a paraphrase])
Why the hit to Mr. Giuliani? Off the top of my head, I'd say conservative voters who primarily want a winner and someone who will be tough on national security might see Mr. Thompson as being as good as the former mayor, but without a lot of the baggage (social-issue positions and ex wives). ...
What does it all mean? Partly, that polls this early swing wildly based on name recognition. But also that -- and this may end up being quite important as the race wears on -- John McCain's numbers do not seem to be as susceptible to wild fluctuations as those of some of the other candidates. Conservatives, and Republicans generally, don't like him. But they basically know who he is, they know what they thought of him yesterday, and they know what they'll think of him tomorrow.
For a different perspective on Romney, check out this Los Angeles Times piece on the views held by Massachusetts liberals. In short, these activists have trouble recognizing the former governor they once supported.
As noted earlier this week, Romney's Mormonism has dropped off completely as an issue that potential supporters care about. His faith is not mentioned once (appropriately) in the LAT piece. If Romney's campaign has indeed been dented for religious conservatives because of his previous positions on key moral issues, it would be interesting to know if that support has moved to Thompson and whether it has a chance of sticking.