We thought wrong. The most recent Rasmussen poll has Thompson and Guiliani tied for the lead at 24% each. Thompson's 7 point advance over the past week corresponded exactly to Romney's 4 point drop plus McCain's 3 point drop. Each are now sitting at 11%.
This is McCain's poorest showing since the weekly Rasmussen polls began back in January.
Romney is back in the 8-12% range where he has languished for all but his recent pre-Thompson blip in late May, when he crept up to 15-16% for 3 weeks after digging deep into his ample campaign coffers.
Fred Thompson has yet to spend a dime.
Those candidates who have been campaigning for President since high school (at least that's how it feels to this fatigued observer) have to be irritated by Thompson's instant appearance at the top. Rasmussen describes the rise in his polling numbers as "meteoric" compared to the usual blip a candidate gets when first announcing an intention to run.
Guiliani's stategy has been to let the conservatives split their vote while moderates and single-issue 9/11 voters consolidate behind him -- and it may still work.
Romney's strategy has been to raise oodles of money and spend it all in Iowa and New Hampshire -- and it may still work.
McCain's strategy has been to rely on the Republican habit of using the "OK, now it's your turn" approach to choosing nominees -- and it might have worked, had immigration reform not emerged as one of the clear uniting factors in the GOP.
The GOP base hasn't liked McCain for years, and now that McCain is opposite the party majority on this issue (and on the side of über-boogeyman Sen. Kennedy and on the side of a President whose approval ratings are approaching Fred Thompson's shoe size,) it is hard to see McCain recovering.
The Rasmussen polls are done differently from all other polls, using automated polling of quite large samples (which has both advantages and disadvantages) rather than the usual technique of using small samples and live interviewers. So this result may or may not be confirmed in other polls.
But as MH pointed out yesterday, what is going on at this point is that the majority of the GOP has never been satisfied with the slate of candidates on offer thus far. That sentiment is now being expressed as "Fred Thompson" in polls rather than as "none of the above."
To further the baseball metaphor begun yesterday, it looks like the catcher has called for a batting-practice fastball across the middle of the plate. We'll see if Thompson can hit it. We think he can, but when the curveballs and sliders start to come, that's when we'll find out if he belongs in The Show.
(Let's see if Kemmick can find a mixed metaphor in that one.)