For now, a new GOP frontrunner

This afternoon, Gallup released its new national poll, showing support from the GOP presidential candidates among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Here are top four candidates:

1. Rick Perry — 29% (up from 18% in July)
2. Mitt Romney — 17% (down from 23%)
3. Ron Paul — 13% (up from 10%)
4. Michele Bachmann — 10% (down from 13%)

All of the other candidates are below 5%. Herman Cain’s support has slipped badly from the early summer, as has Newt Gingrich’s. Jon Huntsman remains wildly popular with the D.C. media, but he’s still running a distant eighth among GOP voters nationwide, and his support is down to just 1%.

All of the usual caveats, of course, still apply, most notably the fact that it’s still pretty early. If memory serves, at this point in 2007, Hillary Clinton had a big lead among national Democrats, and Fred Thompson looked pretty strong that summer, too. A lot can happen in five months.

Having said that, we can draw a few conclusions about where things currently stand. For example, the GOP’s rank-and-file voters apparently didn’t much mind Rick Perry’s awkward first week as a presidential candidate. His strange antics may have generated scorn from liberal, East-coast elites like me, but Republicans liked what they saw.

Indeed, between the Gallup poll and Perry’s lead in Iowa, it looks like Rick Perry is arguably the new GOP frontrunner, at least for now.

It’s also worth noting that Bachmann appears to be going in the wrong direction. This isn’t terribly surprising — her shtick wears thin pretty quickly — but she benefited from positioning herself as the main far-right alternative to Romney for the Republican base and Tea Party crowd. Now, with Perry in the race, those voters don’t need her anymore.

Not only has Bachmann slipped to fourth nationally, but even in Iowa, where she appeared to be the frontrunner after the recent Ames Straw Poll, the Minnesota congresswoman has not only slipped to third, she’s also seen her unfavorability numbers jump considerably.

Obviously, conditions can still change, but while the Republican race looked like a three-way contest a couple of weeks ago (Perry vs. Romney vs. Bachmann), it’s now easier to imagine a two-person horse-race (Perry vs. Romney) going forward.