If Mike Huckabee decides to run for President again in 2012 he'll start out the same place in Iowa where he finished in 2008- first place. Huckabee leads there with 30% to 18% for Mitt Romney, 15% for Sarah Palin, 13% for Newt Gingrich, 6% for Ron Paul, 4% for Tim Pawlenty, 3% for John Thune, and 1% for Mitch Daniels.
The key to Huckabee's success is the ability to unite the disparate ideological factions of the Republican Party. 31% of voters think the party's too liberal and with them Huckabee has a 26-21 lead over Gingrich, with Palin a little surprisingly coming in further back at 16%. 48% are comfortable with where the party is ideologically and they go for Huckabee too, by a 33-23 margin over Romney. Huckabee comes in a close second behind Romney with the small group of voters who think the party's too conservative, 27-23.
In addition to coming out first on the first choice question, Huckabee would also seem to have the most room to grow his support in Iowa. 19% say he's their second choice to 13% for Palin, 12% for Gingrich, and just 9% for Romney. If any of the other first tier candidates were to end up not running Huckabee would be the beneficiary. Among Gingrich voters he's the second choice by a 31-14 margin over Romney. Among Palin voters he's the second choice by a 42-18 margin over Gingrich. And among Romney voters he's the second choice by a 29-19 margin over Gingrich. The big winner if Huckabee doesn't end up making the race would be Palin- she's the second choice of 26% of his voters followed by 16% for Romney.
Huckabee's the obvious winner in this poll. The two folks who probably have the most room for concern at this point are Romney and Palin. Romney's running seven points behind his level of support from 2008 and appears to have little room for growing his support. He has to find a way to deal with a Republican Party that ideologically is moving away from him- for instance with voters who consider themselves to be members of the Tea Party he is in a tie for fourth at 9% with Ron Paul, well behind the rest of the crew. He has to make himself more appealing to that new breed of activists.
For Palin the big question- here and elsewhere- is who's going to decide to support you later who doesn't already support you now? She has near complete name recognition and most people have strong feelings about her already one way or the other that she doesn't seem likely to change. Her key to success in Iowa may be for Huckabee not to run.
We also took a look at the favorability ratings of a number of currently lesser known Republican candidates in Iowa and we'll discuss that in a separate post.
Full results here