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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

2012 GOP Race Remains Wide Open

Callie Schweitzer |
February 9, 2011 | 7:10 p.m. PST


(Courtesy of CNN)
(Courtesy of CNN)
The Republican race for the White House in 2012 is anybody's game going in to the Conservative Political Action Conference, which many say kicks off the GOP's campaign season.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Feb. 8 shows the Republican Party is sharply divided over their best candidate in 2012.

Of those surveyed, 21 percent of Republicans and independents who lean Republican said they would support former Arkansas governor and 2008 GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee if he decides to run. Former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was close behind with 19 percent of the support. Former Massachusetts governor and 2008 Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney came in at 18 percent.

But the top GOP hopefuls in 2011 may mean nothing in 2012.

The current standing of Huckabee, Palin and Romney could be "mostly a matter of name recognition."

"Keep in mind that Joe Lieberman and Rudy Giuliani - both relatively famous when they decided to run for president - were ahead in polls conducted in 2003 and 2007," said CNN's Polling Director Keating Holland. "Neither man won a single primary or caucus once the voting started."

The Feb. 8 numbers were a drop for Palin whose polling figures have dipped in recent months.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Dec. 28 showed 66 percent of Republicans surveyed saying they would support Huckabee in 2012, 59 percent supporting Romney, 54 percent supporting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 49 percent supporting Palin.

"That's a huge 18-point drop since December of 2008, when two-thirds of GOPers said they were likely to support Palin," Holland said.

Palin's overall lower numbers may be due to her time in the public eye surrounding the Jan. 8 shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz. that left six dead and 13 wounded including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who was shot in the head at the "Congress on Your Corner" event she was hosting at a local Safeway.

"Following the shootings critics suggested Palin's at-times charged political rhetoric and use of a graphic featuring crosshairs may have contributed to the shooter's motivations," CNN reports. "The graphic was part of a website that Palin put up last year, during the divisive debate over health care reform, to highlight 20 congressional districts won by Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, where Democratic representatives were voting in favor of the legislation."

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Jan. 19 shows 56 percent of all Americans have an unfavorable view of Sarah Palin--up seven points from just before the November midterm elections. This 56 percent is a record high in disapproval ratings for Palin.

But the Feb. 8 data shows that Republicans remain pleased with Palin. Seventy percent of those surveyed said they have a favorable opinion of her. The only person to come in with a higher approval rating was Huckabee with 72 percent of those polled having a favorable view of the candidate.

This weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is an opportunity for GOP presidential hopefuls to appear together with hopes of finding a candidate to rally around.

Neon Tommy's Tom Dotan reports, "At the center will be a mock election for the Republican presidential candidate. Although it has no bearing on the actual primaries, with the Iowa caucuses about a year away, the results of the straw poll have taken on a heightened importance."

But two big players will be missing this weekend: front-runners Huckabee and Palin, both of whom said they had scheduling conflicts and could not attend.

MSNBC obtained a copy of the straw poll, which lists 15 candidates including Michele Bachmann, Haley Barbour, Herman Cain, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and John Thune.

The increased prominence of another female--Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota--may hurt Palin's chances.

U.S. News and World Report's Jamie Stiehm writes, "January brought—or wrought—a new narrative for the radical right: let's call it the Rise of Michele Bachmann and the Fall of Sarah Palin...The two most visible Republican women may have changed power places at the Tea Party table. The transformation started with the Arizona shootings aftermath (for Palin) and completed with an unofficial State of the Union response (for Bachmann.) Momentum shifted over the frozen northern country's skies, the winds blowing across Alaska to Minnesota to Washington."

First Read's Domenico Montanaro points to some "interesting questions" on the straw poll like "Would you say that you are generally satisfied with the names that have been floated as potential Republican Presidential contenders for 2012 or do you wish the Republican Party had a better field of potential candidates?"

Montanaro notes, "Plus, there are questions of the group's priorities, as well as its level of confidence in Republicans to be able to 'Repeal Obamacare,' 'Reign in Federal Spending,' 'Cut Federal Taxes,' 'Reduce Government Regulations,' and 'Pay Down the National Debt.'"

The results of the straw poll are scheduled to be revealed 45 minutes before the conference ends on Saturday.

To reach editor-in-chief Callie Schweitzer, click here.
To follow her on Twitter: @cschweitz
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