Our monthly national look at the Republican Presidential primary field finds the same thing as pretty much every time- a jumble at the top with Mike Huckabee at 18%, Mitt Romney at 17%, Sarah Palin at 16%, and Newt Gingrich at 14%. Ron Paul leads the second tier with 9%, followed by Tim Pawlenty at 5%, Mitch Daniels at 4%, and Haley Barbour at 1%.
Here's the thing though: it really doesn't seem likely that Palin and Huckabee are both going to run, or even that either of them will run. So we also took a look on this poll at some alternative Republican universes.
If neither Huckabee nor Palin runs you have a tie at the top between Gingrich and Romney at 24%, with Ron Paul in 3rd place at 12%. Gingrich gains ground because 35% of Palin's voters would go to him while only 19% of them would move to the Romney camp if she didn't run. More of Huckabee's voters would go to Gingrich than Romney also but it's by a much closer margin, just 26-23.
The biggest gainer besides the big names of Gingrich and Romney if Huckabee and Palin both sit it out? It's Haley Barbour, who goes from 1% to 5%. He picks up 11% of Huckabee's supporters and 9% of Palin's supporters. That suggests some possibility that if Gingrich implodes Barbour could become the top conservative alternative to Romney as the process plays itself out. All the stuff he's been getting in trouble for lately isn't likely to be a big deal to the Republican base.
Now let's consider the possibility that Huckabee doesn't run, but Palin still does. Romney takes the slightest of leads in that instance with 20% to 19% for Palin, 18% for Gingrich, and 12% for Paul who moves up into double digits in that scenario. Those numbers aren't that much different than when Huckabee is in the mix because his voters distribute their support pretty evenly if he's out- 21% to Palin, 20% to Gingrich, 19% to Romney, and a surprisingly high 15% to Paul.
Finally we looked at what would happen if Palin didn't run, but Huckabee still did. In that instance Huckabee and Gingrich lead the way at 22% and 20% respectively followed by Romney at 18% and no one else in double digits. There are very few Palin supporters who like Romney, so that's why Gingrich would vault him with her out of the picture- 32% of Palin voters list Huckabee as their second choice to 25% for Gingrich and only 10% for Romney.
So to review:
-It doesn't make much difference to Mitt Romney at this point whether Mike Huckabee runs or not but he should want Sarah Palin in the mix. That splits the very conservative vote at least two ways between Gingrich and Palin or even three ways between Gingrich, Palin, and Huckabee. Romney's not going to pick up any support if Palin doesn't run, it will just allow conservatives to get more unified around one of his other opponents.
-Newt Gingrich's prospects will be helped by any permutation of Palin and Huckabee not running. If neither of them run he goes from 4th place at 14% to a tie for first at 24%. If just Palin doesn't run he goes to 2nd place at 20%. If just Huckabee doesn't run he gets to 18%. In any event his prospects look better without those folks in the mix.
-Looking at the currently second tier candidates it doesn't make much difference to Mitch Daniels or Tim Pawlenty's support who's in the picture right now. Daniels is always at 4-5% and Pawlenty's always at 5-7%. But Haley Barbour would really be helped by one or both staying out, going from 1% to 3% (without Palin), 4% (without Huckabee), and 5% (without Palin or Huckabee.) Their exit(s) would allow him to get out of asterisk standing in the polls.
Full results here