Mike Huckabee leads the trio of top-tier Republican contenders for 2012, a Washington Post/ABC poll finds, with 21 percent of the vote. Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney trail him with 19 percent and 17 percent of the vote, respectively. Everyone else is back in the single digits.Palin and Huckabee are fighting for the same base of supporters, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake note. They each take about a quarter whites without college degrees and people with family incomes of less than $50,000. Romney performs well with the more affluent and educated. Huckabee nets 29 percent of white evangelicals. He also wins among conservatives (19 percent) and wins big among the "very conservative" (21 percent).
Chris Christie performed well among those groups, with 11 percent. But this far out, polls aren't very reliable--especially in this case, given that no one's sure the two most popular candidates are even running. Here are some of the early reactions.
- Christie Should Reconsider, Cillizza and Blake continue. "Perhaps the most interesting element of the data is Christie's surprising strength. Despite having only been elected in November 2009, Christie has rapidly emerged as a real force in national GOP politics; the New Jersey governor insists he has no interest in running for president but numbers like these will continue to drive chatter that he needs to re-think his refusals."
- Is Huckabee a Tease? Politico's Ben Smith wonders.
Mike Huckabee and his top advisers insist that he's thinking seriously about running for president, but he's doing little to put together the sort of organization needed to mount a campaign. The latest evidence: Chip Saltsman, his campaign manager in 2008 and one of his closest confidantes, has accepted a job as Chief of Staff for freshman Rep. Chuck Fleischmann ... Because of his devoted grassroots following in places like Iowa and South Carolina, the Arkansan doesn't need to create something from scratch. But if he's serious about running, he's going to need somebody like Saltsman to start working full-time at putting the band back together.
- Palin and Huckabee Aren't Running! The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin writes.
Huckabee has a multi-million dollar media operation that he would have to give up. We have seen no sign--no staff hiring, no sit-downs with reporters--to suggest that he is running. ... Similarly, Sarah Palin's chances of running were diminishing even before the Arizona shooting. She, even more than Huckabee, would have an enormous amount to lose. ... In short, readers, beware. It'll be months and months before we get a GOP primary poll that means anything.
- Here's Pawlenty's Chance Slate's Dave Weigel argues that Huckabee islike Al Gore in 2003 and 2007--"a well-loved figure with most of the party who displays interest in everything but a presidential bid." It's still unclear whether he or Palin will really run, so, "there is a scramble in Iowa (mostly) and the South (to a lesser extent) for his endorsers and voters. I'll call this the Pawlenty Window--the months when he can be the anti-Romney, introducing himself to Iowans, and seeing if he can build a base there."
- A Slow Start to the Campaign, The Hill's Michael O'Brien writes. "A resurgence in President Obama’s popularity could force Republican presidential hopefuls to move up their 2012 announcement dates. Already, most of the GOP contenders are lagging behind the 2008 cycle, for which all of the candidates had announced their intention to run by the end of January 2007. Now the question is: How long is too long to wait, particularly as Obama’s approval ratings have risen in recent polls?" On the other hand, George W. Bush didn't form his exploratory committee until March 1999.
- Meanwhile, Obama Is Looking Stronger, NBC News' Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg write. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Obama beating Huckabee by 10 points, Newt Gingrich by 19. "But keep in mind: At this stage of the 1996 cycle... Bob Dole was leading Bill Clinton... That tells us one of two things: Either these polls aren't that reliable this far out, or that Obama enters the 2012 in a much stronger position than Clinton did in '96." This poll finds Romney a point ahead of Huckabee, but, crucially, Huckabee is more people's second choice, winning a primary if Palin sat out.