New PPP polls on the 2012 Republican field in Iowa, Michigan, and South Carolina make that much more clear what we've been saying for weeks now- there is no front runner to take on Barack Obama. A different potential contender leads in each of the three states.
In Iowa Mike Huckabee won the caucus by about 10 points in 2008 and he's the top choice of Republicans in the state now by an almost identical margin. He finishes first at 27%. The second place finisher then was Mitt Romney but he places fourth in this poll, albeit only a point or two behind Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Palin comes in at 17%, followed by Gingrich at 16%, and Romney at 15%.
The Iowa numbers make it clear that Jim DeMint's rise as a national figure is more of an insider thing than anything else- he registers at just 2% in Iowa. South Dakota Senator John Thune gets a similar 2%. Not surprisingly Ron Paul does the best of the second tier candidates at 7%. (We didn''t include Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, or Rick Santorum on this particular poll because they all got 3% or less on a similar New Hampshire poll two months ago.)
In South Carolina Gingrich leads with 25% but Romney (24%) and Palin (22%) are not far behind. While Huckabee's continuing support in Iowa is impressive his standing in South Carolina (19%) is perhaps surprisingly weak. He finished 14 points ahead of Romney in the state in 2008 but now trails him by 5. The two biggest takeaways from the South Carolina numbers are probably that 1) Gingrich is a very legitimate candidate if he decides to get in and 2) Romney may not win the South if he runs but he won't be irrelevant there either.
We also just for fun threw in a permutation of the question with Jim DeMint included as a possible Republican candidate and he does lead the way with 21% to 16% for Gingrich and Romney and 15% for Huckabee and Palin. PPP found last week that only 15% of South Carolinians overall and 24% of Republicans want DeMint to run for President but he does at least have support from the small group of constituents who want him to gun for the White House.
In Michigan Romney won the primary with 39% in 2008 and he's still pretty much there, leading the way with 37% for 2012. Palin comes in second at with 24%, followed by Gingrich at 16%, and Huckabee at 12%.
The numbers continue to show strong support for Romney with moderates but weak support from conservatives, a formula that could cost him the nomination given the direction of the Republican Party. For instance in South Carolina he leads Gingrich by 22 points with moderates but trails him by 8 points with conservatives, dropping him into second place. In Michigan where Romney perhaps ought to have a large advantage thanks to his family ties in the state he leads Palin by 48 points with moderates but only 3 points with conservatives.
These numbers can't be seen as a particularly great sign for Palin either. Although she has a solid base of support in every state where we've looked at the 2012 contest the truth remains that she's led in few of them. And in both Iowa and South Carolina she runs behind Gingrich with conservatives, an indication he could end up as the darling of the right if he makes the race rather than Palin.
They're really not great news for Huckabee either. In 2008 he won in Iowa but failed to get the nomination because he couldn't build on that victory in other states. His polling in South Carolina and Michigan on these polls and previously in New Hampshire leaves something to be desired.
The biggest takeaway from these numbers? The GOP race is wide open and there is a lot of room for someone who isn't all that well known right now to step in and make a very serious bid at the nomination.
Full results here