The national polls that we have seen so far, which essentially measure the name ID of the GOP contestants, are useless. However, state polls that measure the standing of those in the GOP field are on the brink of being useful guides. 

The latest CNN/Time poll, which shows Mitt Romney in the lead or tied in the first four primary or caucus states, reveals some indicators that provide more than a snapshot of the ranking of the candidates. The most striking is that there is no case to make that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has achieved co-front runner status with Romney. Perry is a good candidate, and he can get back in it, but it’s going to take work. His effort to make a good first impression has failed. However, he is an able campaigner, he has money, and, as of this week, he has plenty of top-flight advisors. 

The golf analogy is that Romney is steady, consistently hitting fairways and greens. The other candidates hit the occasional great shot, but they are also shanking them into the woods and the hazards, and a few have revealed that they are just not very good players. 

Much of Romney’s discipline is likely a product of having run before and not allowing himself to be distracted by topical headlines or other candidates’ ups and downs. It’s true that his support is thin, but everybody’s support is thin. And it is beginning to appear that only Romney has a floor of support beyond which he cannot fall, baring a major political catastrophe. 

The Cain phenomenon is probably just that. He’s the right man at the right moment, with his outsider status and emotional, enthusiastic appeal, and that’s reflected in the poll. He and others will have the challenge of making GOP voters believe that voting for them is not a wasted vote. That they can win. Also, this poll shows that Romney must make himself the second choice among Cain supporters. Every day, Romney needs to be kind and gentle to Cain. Other candidates face the tougher challenge of how to bring down the popular Cain without driving up their own negatives. 

Again, it’s not the season for ripe, truly useful polls, but we’re getting close. And it is certainly true that, in a campaign, a good poll is better than a bad poll. This morning, the Romney and Cain campaigns are distributing copies of these poll results to potential contributors and supporters. The other candidates are not.