Political polls are snapshots in time and the results of poll 14 months before Election Day must be viewed in that context, but the new USA Today/Gallup poll of Republican presidential nomination preferences are bad news for everyone except Mitt Romney, but perhaps especially bad news for Rick Perry.
Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich have, for all intents and purposes, tanked. This should mean that after two widely viewed presidential debates, Perry should be opening a lead over Romney. But he isn't.
Perry's performance in the debates was, for the most part, lackluster and evidence that he has some ideas that may be too over the top and an intellect perhaps not quite ready for prime time. Additionally, new donors are not flocking to him in appreciable numbers, and the window for him to take a sizable lead is closing, if it has not already closed.
Perry led the poll field with 31 percent of respondents saying that they preferred him. Romney was at 24 percent, Paul at 13 percent and Bachmann, Paul, Gingrich and Cain all at 5 percent. Bachmann's standing is calamitous considering she was only 13 percentage points behind Perry in the August poll.
The bad news for the Texas governor is that he only slightly increased his overall lead compared to the August poll, while Romney has narrowed the gap from 12 percent to 7 percent.
Reading between the lines, this is an indication that while they might not be saying so out loud, a fair number of Republicans believe that Romney is more electable than Perry. Some 53 percent of poll respondents said that they would prefer a nominee with the best chance of beating President Obama, while 43 percent said they would prefer a nominee who agrees with them on most issues.
This bad news represents a potential opportunity for Sarah Palin.
I had written off the former half-term governor off after Bachmann's strong showing in the Iowa straw poll last month, but her nose dive leaves Palin as the one potential candidate with platinum Tea Party credentials, Perry's being somewhat suspect because of his record on immigration, among other issues.
Meanwhile, there are another round of rumors circulating that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is considering entering the race despite zero evidence that is the case. Besides which, it is hard to picture the Republican base getting excited about a RINO.