Our national polling on the 2012 Republican Presidential contest pretty consistently shows what amounts to a four way tie between Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich. But to get a feel of how things might play out in reality it's interesting to look at the polls we've conducted in each of the five states that are likely to hold pre-Super Tuesday contests in 2012.
In Iowa our late May poll found that Mike Huckabee would still be the top candidate in the state with 27% to 17% for Sarah Palin, 16% for Newt Gingrich, and 15% for Mitt Romney. Huckabee would get much less of a boost from winning Iowa than the average Presidential contender does though because there would be a certain 'been there, done that' feeling to his victory. Coverage would likely focus less on Huckabee's winning and more on whether he could do a better job of building on that victory in 2012 than he did in 2008.
Next would come New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney currently leads with 31% to 14% for Gingrich, 12% for Huckabee, and 9% for Palin. Romney would obviously get a huge boost from a resounding victory where he fell short in 2008. Things would start getting very hot for Sarah Palin, with the media wondering why Palin's rock star status wasn't actually translating into any votes.
At that point with South Carolina and Nevada on the horizon the Palmetto State would be looked at as a must win for Palin and Gingrich, and probably Huckabee as well to some extent. Nevada would be expected to go for Romney again as it did in 2008 but he would have an opportunity to land a virtual knockout punch if he could sweep the day by adding South Carolina to his victory list as well.
Our numbers right now suggest that Romney would repeat his Nevada victory. He's currently polling at 34% to 28% for Gingrich, 16 for Palin, and 11% for Huckabee. He would not get his game changing victory in South Carolina though. Right now Newt Gingrich has an ever so slight lead there at 25%, followed by Romney at 24%, Palin at 22%, and Huckabee at 19%. Obviously the difference between winning a primary by a point and losing by one is pretty negligible in terms of actual numbers, but in terms of perception it would keep the Gingrich candidacy alive.
The day of voting in South Carolina and Nevada would quite possibly spell the end of Palin and Huckabee's campaigns. Following up his Iowa win with a 3rd place finish and 2 4ths in the next set of contests would make it clear that he was a one trick Iowa pony and didn't have the ability to compete successfully in other states, particularly if he did worse in South Carolina this time than he did in 2008. For Palin following up a distant 2nd place finish in Iowa and an extremely disappointing 4th place finish in New Hampshire with 3rd place rankings in South Carolina and Nevada would add fuel to the fire that her campaign was going nowhere.
So it's quite possible at that point the race would go to Florida as a contest between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. That's where things could get interesting. Right now Romney leads there with 31% to 23% for Gingrich and Palin and 15% for Huckabee. But there's no doubt a big reason Romney polls so well in the early states right now is the conservative vote splitting three ways, and it seems quite possible Gingrich would pick up a lot of Palin and Huckabee's support. If Romney was able to win Florida anyway, especially if it was by a wide margin, that would have the potential to spell the end of the road. But if Gingrich won and emerged with co-front runner status we could be in for one heck of a protracted contest.
And yes I think other Republican candidates could become real players in the field and this polling is obviously very early in the game. Doesn't mean it's not fun to think about