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Unlike Bush in mid-1999, no runaway GOP leader right now (including Perry)

A look at polling numbers illustrates how muddled the GOP presidential contest presently is, compared to the outlook at this point in the 2000 White House campaign, when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush was already the clear frontrunner.

Current Texas Gov. Rick Perry may see the crowded field as evidence of a power vacuum in need of occupation. However, his own polling numbers aren’t so formidable right now, either — showing him to be on the same echelon as (or, if anything, slightly lower than) fellow Texan Ron Paul. This, of course, has the potential to change dramatically if Perry formally announces his candidacy and seriously pursues the GOP nomination.

In July 1999, Bush was the favorite of 59 percent of Republicans, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey (retrieved via PollingReport.com). At the time, U.S. Sen. John McCain’s support was at 3 percent, and it increased fairly steadily until March 2000, reaching 30 percent. Bush’s, meanwhile, stayed at around 60 percent, according to the series of surveys.

In January 1999, a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll pegged Elizabeth Dole as Republicans’ top choice, getting 30 percent of the vote, compared to 18 percent for Bush, who hadn’t formed his campaign committee yet. A Gannet poll around the same time had Bush leading Dole 39-22 percent, though.

In June 1999, a Washington Post survey showed Bush leading the GOP field with 49 percent of the vote, Dole second with 20 percent, “undecided” at 7 percent, and then the rest. Dole would drop her campaign in the fall, giving McCain room to work his best efforts.

This year, nearly all of the latest polls show former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the GOP frontrunner, but with only about 25 percent of the Republican vote, according to an average of polls maintained by RealClearPolitics.

A new IBOPE Zogby/Newsmax poll purports to show that Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann leapt ahead of Romney following the announcement of her candidacy and her exceeding of minimal expectations during the June 13 GOP presidential debate, according to the Christian Post. Bachman was the pick of 24 percent of survey respondents, followed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who adamantly says he’s not running) with 17 percent, Romney with 15 percent, Herman Cain with 15 percent and Texas U.S. Rep. Paul with 13 percent.

According to Newsmax, the survey also showed Christie trouncing Romney in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, 62-19 percent, and Perry also easily beating Romney, 55-22 percent. While Christie is more popular than Romney among conservative and moderate Republicans, Perry is more popular than Romney among conservatives Republicans but less popular than Romney among moderate Republicans. Romney is most popular among liberal Republicans.

Aside from that piece of good news, however, Perry has generally been a nonfactor in national GOP presidential polls — much of that probably due to the fact that he’s not running yet and hasn’t usually been included in the polls.

According to the RealClearPolitics aggregation of polls, however, Perry has been an option in three of nine national surveys, and has an average support level of 5 percent. By comparison, fellow Texan Paul grabs 7 percent of the vote. Bachmann’s average support level is 6 percent — but the only poll taken after the GOP debate, by Rasmussen, showed her with 19 percent of the GOP vote (second to Romney’s 33 percent in that poll).

Meanwhile, a Dick Morris Poll conducted June 18-19 showed Romney leading the GOP field with 23 percent of the vote, followed by Bachmann and Paul, who each had 12 percent, then Perry, Cain and Newt Gingrich, each with 5 percent. According to theHouston Chronicle’s Texas on the Potomac blog:

“”Rick Perry shows weakness in the polling that might cause him to reconsider running for president,” Morris concluded. “As governor of Texas, he is already well known, particularly in the South. If he cannot produce more than a 5 percent vote share nationally or do better than 9 percent in his (home) region, he is not showing much strength.””

In opposition to the Zogby poll, the Dick Morris Poll showed that “The establishment Republicans who are Romney’s real first round opponents all do very poorly when measured against him,” according to Potomac.

According to Gallup — and in contrast to Zogby’s take — the June 13 GOP debate failed “to shake up” GOP candidates’ ratings among Republicans. Rather than asking respondents who their top candidate is, Gallup attempts to measure each candidate’s “Positivity Intensity Score” — the difference between the percentage of respondents with a strongly favorable opinion of the candidate, and those with a strongly unfavorable opinion of the candidate — together with each candidate’s level of recognition among respondents. (Perry’s not included in the Gallup series of polls.)

By Gallup’s metric, Sarah Palin, Romney and Bachmann are the only candidates with above-average ‘Positive Intensity Scores’ and above-average name-recognition.

While Cain’s ‘Positive Intensity Score’ has dipped in June, Bachmann’s rose, and Romney’s and Palin’s stayed level. Paul, meanwhile, has above-average name-recognition but a below-average ‘Positive Intensity Score,” putting him in company with Gingrich.

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