The crop of 2012 Republican presidential candidates is about to expand, adding faces to one of the most varied—and muddled—GOP fields in decades.
The lineup currently lacks a clear favorite to stir the GOP base, to the dismay of many in the party.
A Gallup poll released Friday underscored an awkward situation facing the GOP. Two men who may not even run—Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump—tied for first among Republicans surveyed, with a scant 16% support apiece, while the presumed GOP favorite, Mitt Romney, came in second at 13%.
The last GOP nominee to score under 20% in a Gallup poll at this stage prior to an election was Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Half a dozen Republican candidates have initiated bids to take on President Barack Obama, and more will jump in by the end of May. Candidates are also bracing for their first actual campaign-trail tests, in an initial batch of spring debates and forums in early primary states.
But by the standards of recent elections, that amounts to an unusually slow start, stirring concerns in GOP circles that the party has a long way to go to take on a well-funded incumbent president, even as a slide in his poll numbers in recent days makes him look vulnerable.
There’s even concern that this election season’s new rules on apportioning delegates could lead to a mess under current circumstances. Mr. Gregg said he could imagine his party getting to its convention in Tampa next year without a nominee.
Because the party is ditching its winner-take-all primary system for one that awards delegates in early primary states proportionally, a candidate who consistently comes in second or third throughout the primaries could easily get to Tampa with the most delegates but without winning a state, Mr. Gregg said. That would be a recipe for conflict.
For now, the inchoate contest simply hasn’t captured the public’s attention. A poll released Wednesday by the Pew Center for the People and the Press found that 53% of respondents couldn’t name anyone when asked which Republican candidate they had been hearing the most about.