Sept. 10, a few days after Fred finally announced: Rudy 28, Fred 26. Five weeks later, on Oct. 15: Rudy 39, Fred 18. What went wrong? HuffPo thinks it knows:

“Last summer, Thompson gave a speech before the Orange County Lincoln Club, one of the more powerful GOP organizations in O.C. and everybody was there,” Los Angeles-based Republican strategist Allan Hoffenblum tells HuffPolitics. “He bombed and has not been able to recover. There is no there, there and the voters are beginning to realize this.”

He did bomb at the Lincoln Club, according to Bob Novak, but that was in May, four months before that September poll put him just a shade south of Rudy. Obviously something’s happened since then, but what? I’m guessing it’s a combination of him being a little more conservative than Californians would prefer plus disgruntlement at his failure to live up to the massive Reaganesque hype he encouraged by staying out of the race and above the fray for months to build his mystique. Whatever, though. All it means is that Fred probably won’t win a state he wasn’t much expected to win anyway. It just makes the south and evangelicals — among whom he leads Rudy by double digits (but just barely) — that much more important.

Speaking of Novak, he’s run the numbers and found that the four leading Democrats currently lead the GOP’s big four in cash on hand, $104 million to $35 million. No typo. 3 to 1. WaPo has a piece out today explaining why this is — namely, a lot of monied Bush supporters either don’t like the GOP field or, belatedly, don’t like Bush himself:

Scores of Bush Pioneers and Rangers are not working for any Republican candidate, citing discontent with the war in Iraq, anger at the performance of Republicans in Congress and a general lack of enthusiasm. More than two dozen have actually made contributions to Democrats.

Matt Fong, a former California state treasurer, 1998 U.S. Senate candidate and two-time Bush Pioneer, said that after months of disappointment in the Republican Party, he had hoped to be recharged by the new crop of presidential candidates.

“I have yet to get interested in any of them,” he said. “I’m just not happy with the direction of our party. I think we have a huge credibility problem, which I have not seen any of the candidates show the ability to rise above.”

Ah well, buck up. After all, how much worse can things get?

Oh, right:

rudy-3rd.jpg

Update: If you’re thinking that that poll result makes nominating Fred a no-brainer, think again.