CNN poll shows Giuliani leading GOP field

It didn’t take long for CNN to add Rudy Giuliani to its crowded-field polling in the Republican presidential nomination race, and the former New York mayor ends up at the top of a crowd.  Giuliani barely edges Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin for first place, but at 16%, it’s more like a five-way tie:

Call it a sign of how unsettled the GOP presidential field remains: Two of the three people at the top of new national poll in the battle for the Republican nomination may not even run for the White House. And a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey also suggests that there is not a lot of enthusiasm about any of the major candidates.

According to the poll, which was released Friday, 16 percent of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say they would most likely support Rudy Giuliani as their party’s nominee. One point behind, at 15 percent is Mitt Romney, with Sarah Palin coming in at 13 percent.

The first question is whether Giuliani is actually running.  According to CNN’s sources, he’s not doing much about it at the moment:

Giuliani, who was a candidate in the last presidential cycle, is also considering another bid, but an adviser tells CNN that the former New York City mayor is not taking active steps toward getting in the race other than making recent appearances in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary on the road to the White House.

According to CNN’s polling of Republicans and independents planning to vote in GOP primaries, Giuliani only gets tepid enthusiasm from the respondents.  Only 27% of respondents claimed they would be enthusiastic about his nomination — but that was also the highest among the respondents.  Palin got edged at 26%, followed by Romney at 21%, Ron Paul at 20%, and Newt Gingrich at 16%.  When combined with “pleased but not enthusiastic,” Romney leads with 70%, followed by Giuliani at 68%, Paul at 63% (really?), Palin at 56%, and Gingrich in the rear at 50%.

How about others who haven’t tossed their hats in the ring yet?  CNN asked about four prominent Republicans: Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and Jeb Bush, who finish in that order.  Only Ryan scores a positive number for running versus not running (+5); Christie is even at 45 each, Perry is a -10 at 40/50, and Bush has a whopping -19 at 39/58.

CNN’s take on the meaning is probably close to reality, which is that the sudden jump for Giuliani doesn’t necessarily represent a mandate for his candidacy.  It looks more like primary voters are waiting to be convinced even more than waiting for someone new to jump into contention, formally or informally.  The field is close enough that most have a shot at making their case for nomination, at least at the moment.