Huckabee, Romney lead Republican pack in early polls

In the latest poll released by Rasmussen Reports yesterday, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney stand out front over other candidates including Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty.

Twenty-nine percent (29%) of Republican voters nationwide say former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is their pick to represent the GOP in the 2012 Presidential campaign. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that 24% prefer former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney while 18% would cast their vote for former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gets 14% of the vote while Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty gets 4%. Six percent (6%) of GOP voters prefer some other candidate while 7% remain undecided.

These numbers reflect an improvement for Huckabee since July when the three candidates were virtually even. Huckabee’s gain appears to be Palin’s loss as Romney’s support has barely changed.

Rasmussen followed up that report this morning with another that has Huckabee leading Romney 44% to 39% in a head-to-head matchup.

Normally, polls released this early border on the ridiculous. After all, four years ago, initial polling had Rudy Giuliani in front. But I believe the early numbers have considerable merit in this upcoming race for the Republican nomination for a variety of reasons. First of all, the race has already begun. Huckabee landed himself the gig on FNC for the express purpose of getting his face into American living rooms. Romney, Palin and Gingrich have also scrambled for exposure in an effort to remain in the minds of the voters. All four of these candidates have at least modest conservative credentials, something that will be very necessary following the McCain fiasco. Finally, all four have already established rather substantial cores of support. I really think the next Republican nominee will be one of these four candidates. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

Huckabee: His strengths include his affable personality and extraordinary debating skills. He has a very strong core of support among Christian and social conservatives, but that is a huge vulnerability if a candidate such as SC Senator Jim DeMint were to enter the race. Huckabee’s downfall could be his insistence on trying to appeal to everyone. While overcoming the obscurity factor, his TV show on Fox, in my opinion, has not helped him because Republicans are now well aware that watered-down conservatism will not defeat Barack Obama. Huckabee also needs to reconcile with Rush Limbaugh and cannot try to go around him as he did last year.

Romney: His credentials as a proven and effective fiscal conservative will be a tremendous asset during the fourth year of this recession. There also exist a large number of Republicans who wish they had voted for him, given the way things turned out. The “likeability” factor that hurt him so badly in 2008 may actually work to his benefit this time around. He was fairly nasty toward Huckabee and McCain, but the panic and despair caused by this President may cause Republicans to seek out a candidate who can bring a fierce fight to Barack Obama. Romney too will have to woo Rush who has publicly stated he supports Sarah Palin.

Palin: She is clearly the most conservative candidate in the field. If the nomination process were solely about issues, she would win in a landslide. Of course, given the absolute necessity that Obama be defeated, the electability factor will be a huge hurdle for Sarah Palin. While she was surely an asset for the McCain campaign, the stigma of having lost that election will be difficult to overcome. She does have strong backing from many in the new media and will be a huge asset for her as she tries to shed some of the “baggage” she accumulated from 2008. Her lack of experience should not be a factor unless Gingrich becomes a chief opponent.

Gingrich: His strength lies with having previously orchestrated a successful voter revolt against an upopular President and Congress. But Newt combines the flakiness of Huckabee, the unlikeabillity of Romney and the polarization of Palin. I just don’t see him winning the nomination.

Obviously we will see other entries into the race, but I’m not sure anyone else is going to be able to make significant inroads. DeMint could be a very interesting candidate should he choose to run. But moderates such as Pawlenty, Crist and Jindal will never be able to gain traction given what McCain did to the Republican Party.

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