If there’s anything to pay attention to in the Associated Press’ most recent poll of the Republican presidential primary, it’s not the exact distribution of votes among the candidates. That story is familiar: Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney leads the pack with 30 percent support, followed by Herman Cain with 26 percent, Rick Perry at 13 percent, and Ron Paul with 8 percent.
What’s most significant is the extent to which Romney occupies a minority position within the Republican Party. Sixty-two percent of Republicans want a candidate other than him, and of that number, 97 percent want a candidate who is more conservative than the former Massachusetts governor (the remaining 3 percent are Jon Huntsman supporters). This is why it’s too early to dismiss Rick Perry as a failed candidate – Republicans don’t want to nominate Romney, and if Perry can get his campaign into shape, he has a huge pool of anti-Romney conservatives to draw support from.
One last thing. Head-to-head don’t tell us much about the final election results, especially not when the election is more than a year away, but they can give us a sense of the national mood. For Republicans, this isn’t good news. Even with high unemployment and a sluggish economy, Barack Obama edges out Mitt Romney in the AP’s poll, 48 percent to 45 percent. Against Rick Perry, he wins an outright majority, 51 percent to 42 percent.
Republicans are outwardly confident about their chances next year, but with poll results like these – and the complete absence of heavyweight candidates from the field – something tells me that they’re a little more circumspect in private.