The idea that the mainstream media both loathes and fears Scott Walker is quickly moving past the stage of being a theory and into the realm of facts. Whether it’s attempting to make something out of his lack of a college sheepskin or dreaming up comments to make about cheese, the time honored practice of trying to tear down Republican contenders is well underway. Unfortunately for the talking heads, poll numbers are part and parcel of their business, and as NBC’s First Reads is forced to admit, the Scott Walker train looks to be picking up a head of steam.

There are two big takeaways from our new NBC/Marist polls of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina that we released yesterday. First, with less than a year before the first nominating contests, the Republican presidential field is wide open — seven different possible GOP candidates get double-digit support in at least one of the states. Second, only two potential candidates (former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker) are in double digits in ALL three states. So call Bush and Walker your very early 2016 Republican frontrunners.

Walker trails Huckabee (the frontrunner) by only two points in Iowa, 17 to 15. The Wisconsin Governor is in second place behind Jeb in New Hampshire, 18 to 15. He’s currently in third place in South Carolina with 12%, but let’s be honest… that’s only because they included Lindsey Graham in the poll and he came in first on his home turf with 17%, a number which won’t be transferring to any other states in the next eight months as near as I can tell. Without Graham in the race, it would be interesting to see how he stacks up against Bush, who scored 15% in the same survey.

This must be driving the Powers That Be to distraction. They really seem to have a burning hatred of Walker because of the reputation he established for taking on public worker unions in general and teachers unions in particular. Those are hugely popular among liberals and one of the funding backbones of the Democrats. But the Crazy Tea Party label just isn’t sticking on the rather reserved, get down to business image that Walker projects. And his tenacious refusal to lose one election after another in a legitimately blue to purple state makes him an actual threat which must be eradicated before we get to the serious debate season and the rest of the country begins catching on.

What will they do next? I don’t know yet, but I can assure you that there are DNC oppo research teams turning and burning 24/7 to figure out something.