Fred Thompson may have only floated the idea of the running for president, but that was enough to shake up the Republican nomination race. In the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, Thompson is already third, with 12 percent of the vote. With Thompson in the race, first place Giuliani drops to 31 percent from 44 percent in the last poll from early March, McCain actually ticks up to 22 percent from 20 percent, Gingrich drops 1 point to 8 percent, and Romney falls into a fifth place tie with Brownback, with just 3 percent of the vote (Romney was at 8 percent in the last poll).
One thing worth noting is that other news events have occurred in the past few weeks that could have affected the poll, so it’s impossible to attribute the fluctuations exclusively to Thompson. But clearly his presence in the poll did have an impact.
I think Thompson eats into Giuliani’s support because clearly a portion of Rudy’s backers are people who want someone electable, but hate McCain. Thompson offers a viable alternative to McCain who is also hawkish on national security, but is conservative on social issues.
As for Romney, I blogged about how Thompson threatens his candidacy last week, and this poll provides some emprical data to back that up. The Romney camp has been banking on the fact that when all is said and done, conservatives fed up with Rudy and McCain would flock to Mitt, but with Thompson in the race, they have a more viable alternative. This poll result is quite bad for Romney, given that Brownback has a fraction of the money organization he does, and probably even less name recognition. Romney folks want us to discount polls this early, but his poll numbers should at least not be getting worse. At 3 percent, Romney is now officially tied with the margin of error.