2012 Republican Nomination Fight One Of The Most Open-Ended Ever
The race for the 2012 Republican nomination is missing the one thing that GOP nomination battles have almost always had, a frontrunner.
Two new polls show that the race for the Republican nomination is still pretty much a popularity contest with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee at the top, but also show some interesting numbers further down the pack.
First, there’s the new CNN poll that has Huckabee (who many suspect won’t run at all) leading Mitt Romney by a small margin:
In a CNN poll released today, self-identified Republican adults named the usual suspects as their top choices to represent the party in next year’s presidential election. But behind Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin came business mogul and reality television host Donald Trump, placing fifth, just two points back of the former Alaska governor.
Mike Huckabee led all potential candidates at 19%, followed by Mitt Romney (18%), Newt Gingrich (15%), and Sarah Palin (12%). Trump broke into double-digits as well, coming in at 10%.
Huckabee and Romney have led almost every national poll of the GOP field, with Palin and Gingrich rounding out the top-tier. Rep. Ron Paul has been the only other candidate to consistently poll near those top four. In CNN’s latest poll, Paul placed behind Trump, at 8%.
In the CNN poll, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, and Rick Santorum each garnered 3%, while Haley Barbour garnered 1%.
Trump getting double digits shouldn’t be all that surprising since, at this point, these polls are influenced by name recognition and celebrity. What is interesting, though, is that Trump’s presence in the field would seem to hurt Palin the most:
“Removing Trump’s name from the list and allocating his voters to their second choice gives Huckabee 21 percent and Romney 19 percent – essentially unchanged from January. In a Trump-less field, Gingrich gets 15 percent, up from 10 percent in January, and Paul goes from 7 percent to 11 percent. Palin is the big loser, dropping from 19 percent in a no-Trump round in January to just 13 percent now,” adds Holland.
The only explanation I can come up with for this one is that some portion of Palin’s support is from people who are jumping on her bandwagon because of the celebrity, and Trump is a far bigger celebrity than Sarah Palin, and he has the advantage of not having much of a political record so he can pretty much say whatever he wants and people will think he actually believes it. I can’t see that translating well at all when people actually start paying attention to this race, but I would expect Trump to continue getting media attention for some time, and he’ll milk it for all its worth.
In addition to CNN, we’ve got a new poll from Pew Research that shows Romney and Huckabee essentially tied, but also shows that, at least at the moment, there isn’t much of a difference in candidate preference between regular Republicans and self-identified Tea Party members:
Romney and Huckabee generally garner the most support across the ideological spectrum of Republicans and Republican leaners.
But Palin nearly matches Huckabee among those independents who say they lean Republican (18% for Huckabee, 16% for Palin), while 13% of GOP leaners say Paul is their top choice. Paul, best known for strong libertarian views, fares better among these GOP-leaning independents than he does among self-described Republicans (5%).
Among those who say they agree with Tea Party movement, 24% say Romney would be their first choice, 19% say Huckabee, 15% say Gingrich, 13% say Paul and 12% say Palin.
Here’s the complete breakdown:
Mitt Romney mended the 2008 campaign as essentially the standard bearer for movement conservatives despite his primary loss to John McCain but has since become somewhat anathema to many conservatives because of his continued defense of the Massachusetts health care reform plan, which bears a striking resemblance to many provisions of the Affordable Care Act, as the White House continues to remind us. The fact that he leads the GOP field even now among Tea Party-ers is really quite surprising. I can only stock up to a combination of name recognition and, perhaps, a realization among some Tea Partiers that ideological orthodoxy isn’t going to win nationwide elections. Even more interesting is the fact that Palin is barely in double digits with this group, a reflection, it would seem, of her declining favorability in general over the past several months.
Not nearly as surprising is the fact that Huckabee leads among most religious voters:
Three-in-ten among those who attend church weekly (30%) say their first choice is Huckabee, much greater support than for any other potential candidate. Huckabee also leads among white evangelical Republicans: 29% say their first choice is Huckabee, compared with 16% who favor Palin and 15% for Romney. Huckabee holds a comparable lead among white Catholic Republicans and leaners.
If Huckabee doesn’t run, these voters, which play a huge role in Iowa as well as many Southern primaries, will be up for grabs. Some would likely get behind Palin if she decides to run, but it might not be so easy for her to pick up where Huckabee left off. If neither Huckabee nor Palin run, then this group of voters will pretty much be completely up for grabs, with candidates like Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, and apparently Michelle Bachmann trying to appeal to them. One dark horse candidate who could do well among this voting bloc is Herman Cain. He won’t win, but with enough support from highly motivated evangelicals he could become the “surprise” candidate for 2012, and could end up on the short list for Vice-President.
The biggest take away from these polls, though, is that there still isn’t a frontrunner for the Republican nomination. This is unusual for the GOP, which has historically rallied behind an heir apparent early on in the race. This year, there’s no heir apparent, and its not even clear that some of the top tier candidates are going to run. If they don’t then this will be the most wide-open race Republicans have seen in a very long time.