There are some startling numbers on Scott Rasmussen's weekly national poll on the Republican race for president. Rudy Giuliani continues to be in first place, but with 23 percent of the vote, the lowest percentage he's gotten all year. Roughly tied for second place are Fred Thompson (17), Mitt Romney (15), and John McCain (14). I wouldn't put too much stock in the fact that Thompson is second and McCain fourth; the numbers are a statistical tie. More interesting is the trend over the course of the year. For the following table I've averaged Rasmussen's results for each month (with the numbers reported May 1 counted as April numbers, since that's when the interviewing took place).
These numbers confirm my intuitive sense of the flow of the race. Giuliani surged in February and March, then fell back as Thompson's name appeared on the list. The lead he has now is anything but commanding. Thompson, who raised his first money yesterday, clearly is competitive. Romney has been on an upswing, but of limited scope. McCain has been falling, but not precipitously; he had a slight uptick in May, not statistically significant but coinciding with his spirited defense of the surge in Iraq.
My sense is that the numbers in the Republican race are considerably more fluid than those on the Democratic side; the national poll numbers seem to indicate this. Republicans this cycle, like Democrats in 2003-04, clearly have the sense that their party is in grave danger of losing and are seeking a candidate who they think can win. That has helped Giuliani. But the poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, where Romney has averaged a slight lead, and South Carolina, where McCain has had a slight lead, indicate that Giuliani may have a rough path to the nomination. As for the contest in Florida on January 29, Giuliani starts off with a lead that looks a lot like his lead in national polls, which is not surprising considering that Florida is too large for effective retail campaigning and no one was concentrating on it much until it shifted to the January 29 date.
Stephen Hayes, who's been covering the nascent Thompson campaign closely, reports that Thompson is going to target Florida. Will Giuliani's lead hold up there?