Guy Benson
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A fresh batch of CNN/Time polls shows former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney leading the GOP field among registered Republican voters in four crucial early states.  Romney leads narrowly in Iowa and South Carolina, and comfortably in New Hampshire and Florida.  Those are the four states whose primaries and caucuses are either definitively scheduled, or are likely to fall, in January.  If these public opinion snapshot are accurate, and if they hold up over the next two-plus months, and if Romney sweeps (or even takes three of) these contests, the dominoes will begin to fall -- and he will lock down the nomination.  In case you're curious, he also leads by a double-digit margin in the fifth early state, Nevada, which will hold its caucuses on February 4th.  I know what you're thinking: Those are a lot of "ifs."  You're right, and there's a major caveat to add for the Romney fans who are tempted to spike the football.  But first, the raw numbers:
 

Iowa -
 

Romney 24%
Cain 21%
Paul 12%
Gingrich 10%
Perry 10%
Bachmann 6%
Santorum 2%
Huntsman 1%
Someone else (vol.) *
None/ No one (vol.) 3%
No opinion 11%

 
South Carolina -
 
Romney 25%
Cain 23%
Paul 12%
Perry 11%
Gingrich 8%
Bachmann 4%
Huntsman 1%
Santorum 1%
Someone else (vol.) *
None/ No one (vol.) 5%
No opinion 10%


New Hampshire -
 

Romney 40%
Cain 13%
Paul 12%
Huntsman 6%
Gingrich 5%
Perry 4%
Bachmann 2%
Santorum 1%
Someone else (vol.) *
None/ No one (vol.) 5%
No opinion 14%


Florida -
 

Romney 30%
Cain 18%
Gingrich 9%
Perry 9%
Paul 6%
Bachmann 4%
Huntsman 1%
Santorum 1%
Someone else (vol.) 1%
None/ No one (vol.) 7%
No opinion 14%


So there's your good news, Romney fans.  The bad news?  In every state except New Hampshire -- which everyone expects Romney to carry, with one possible exception -- sizeable majorities of Republican voters say they aren't sold on their preferred candidate yet, and could still change their minds.  This uncertainty is most evident in the earliest state, Iowa, where more than 6 in 10 registered Republicans remain uncommitted to their top pick du jour.  This field remains very fluid.  Case in point:  Rick Perry, who entered the race as an instantaneous frontrunner, now fails to crack the top three in any of these four states.  In other words, things can change very quickly.  Need I remind you of the national polling picture roughly four years ago, to the day? 
 


Another possible explanatory factor for the instability of the field is its (debatable) top-to-bottom weakness.  Phil Klein makes the demoralizing case:
 

Following their blunders, Perry later came out and said that he had no doubts about Obama's native citizenship and Romney claimed to fully back Kasich after all. The surging Herman Cain, meanwhile, who spent much of last week scrambling to explain contradictory statements on abortion, released an avant-garde ad featuring his chief of staff blowing smoke into the camera.

It was just another week on the job for the Republican presidential field.  Throughout the campaign, many pundits have argued that the 2012 Republican presidential field is a weak one...Each Republican contender brings some attributes to the table. But together, the candidates are uninspiring, unserious, unprepared, dishonest, unreliable, inexperienced, inconsistent or ideologically malleable. Not one of them seems up to the task at hand.


Jim Geraghty proposes a remedy for Klein's discontent: Genetic engineering!


UPDATE - A new Fox poll has Cain out front, nationally.

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Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography