The weakest of frontrunners

Gallup released a poll yesterday offering a sense of where the race for the Republican presidential nomination currently stands, at least at the national level. The angle that drew the most attention was Herman Cain’s “surge,” but that’s not what stood out for me. Here’s where the field currently stands:

1. Mitt Romney: 20% (down 4 points from September)
2. Herman Cain: 18% (up 13 points)
3. Rick Perry: 13% (down 16 points)
4. Ron Paul: 8% (down 5 points)
5. Newt Gingrich: 7% (up two points)
6. Michele Bachmann: 5% (no change)
7. Rick Santorum: 3% (up one point)
8. Jon Huntsman: 2% (up one point)

The number of Republican and Republican-leaning voters who are undecided, meanwhile, has doubled over the last month to 20%, leaving it, in effect, tied for first.

Media coverage of this poll generally points to Cain’s numbers, and it’s clear the former pizza company executive is in the midst of a boomlet. Of course, it’s not the first time — back in June, Cain was also running second in a national Gallup and was one of only two candidates in double digits. Soon after, Cain faltered badly.

What seems more interesting, however, is just how weak a frontrunner Mitt Romney really is. Even as Rick Perry’s support collapses, and even when the rest of the GOP field is largely ridiculous, the former Massachusetts governor is still stuck with 20% — down a few points from a month earlier. He’s reclaimed the lead, but he backed into it.

As the Gallup report noted, in nearly every instance since 1959, by this point in the race, the Republican frontrunner enjoyed support of at least 41% before going on to win the party’s nomination. Romney hasn’t even been able to reach 30% in any Gallup poll this year.

How weak a frontrunner is Romney? Tim Pawlenty admitted yesterday he regrets dropping out — and he’s one of Romney’s highest-profile supporters. Hell, Pawlenty’s the national co-chair of the Romney campaign, and now he wishes he were still running against Romney,

Jon Chait recently noted, “I don’t see how Republicans could be making this any more plain. They do not want to nominate Mitt Romney.”

To be sure, they’re likely to nominate him anyway, because there’s no one else worthy of the nod. But when was the last time the Republican Party went into a general election with a nominee so much of the party simply didn’t like?