First Read points them out:

Over the past year, the political world has operated under the assumption that Mitt Romney is the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. After all, he has a wide fundraising network and a deep roster of potential campaign talent. What’s more, Republicans almost always nominate their runner-up from the previous cycle (though both Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin might also claim that status). But if Romney is the front-runner, he’s starting out at a much weaker position than Bob Dole or John McCain ever did at this point in the ’96 and ’08 cycles. According to our latest NBC/WSJ poll, Romney’s national fav/unfav is upside down at 21%-30%, compared with Dole’s net-positive 38%-25% in Sept. ’94 and McCain’s 40%-16% in June ’06. Intensity is a problem, too, for Romney. Just 6% view him VERY positively, versus 14% for Dole in ’94 and 11% for McCain in ’06.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.