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August 18th, 2010

If Huckabee Doesn’t Run, Romney becomes the Iowa Frontrunner, but Keep an Eye on the Back of the Pack

On Monday, released the results of its 2012 caucus poll.  The survey included the names of ten likely candidates that have either already been traveling to the First-In-The-Nation Caucus state, or are rumored to be interested in a presidential run.  As is the case with any poll that uses a hypothetical list of candidates, the poll is worthless if one or two of the most well-known candidates that were polled don’t end up running.

There are a number of political insiders who believe that Mike Huckabee and/or Sarah Palin will ultimately not seek the Republican nomination in 2012.  Combined, Huckabee and Palin garnered a third of the support in poll.  The speculation surrounding Huckabee and Palin prompted us to poll the potential field of Republican presidential candidates, but this time, they were not included in the poll.

In that version of the poll, Mitt Romney came away as the clear frontrunner in Iowa.  Romney garnered 26 percent of the vote, eight percentage points better than his closest challenger, New Gingrich, who received 18 percent.  Ron Paul finished in third place with seven percent, followed by Tim Pawleny with three percent.  John Thune, Rick Perry and Rich Santorum each garnered one percent in the poll.

The biggest mover in this version of the poll was the undecided voters.  In the poll that included Huckabee and Palin, 23 percent were undecided.  With Huckabee and Palin out of the mix, the number of undecided voters jumped to 39 percent.  Other candidates who gained in the poll without the presence of Huckabee and Palin were Romney, who gained eight points, Gingrich, who added four points to his total, and Pawlenty and Paul, who each increased his previous number by two percent.

Romney’s growth in the poll is significant.  He obviously benefits from being perceived as the early frontrunner nationally.  While Romney’s 2008 campaign in Iowa was full of turbulence, most of which he brought on himself, he has a number of advantages that will benefit him in Iowa this time around.

Romney will enter the 2012 campaign with an existing grassroots network in the state, increased name ID across the state, a national fundraising database, and it is likely that the key members of his 2008 campaign we be back for the 2012 race.  That kind of continuity is a luxury that none of his opponents will have.

Gingrich’s bump in the poll shows that he is a legitimate contender in Iowa.  If the rest of the field fails to gain traction and the race ends up looking like it’s just between him and Romney, Gingrich will be in good shape.  As the alternative to the frontrunner, Gingrich will be able to woo over those who may be supporting lesser-known candidates.  This is exactly what Huckabee was able to do in 2008, and what Steve Forbes did against George W. Bush in 2000.  Being the alternative to the frontrunner is a nice place to be in the Iowa caucuses.

While the poll’s numbers look really good for Romney and Gingrich, it’s also very likely that the poll is more about name ID at this time than anything else.  With 39 percent of people undecided, there is also ample opportunity for the second tier of candidates to emerge.

While many are quick to write off candidates like Ron Paul, who is at seven percent, Pawlenty at three percent, or the other candidates who barley register in the poll, it’s these candidates who people need to watch.

Ron Paul’s seven percent in the poll is nothing to sneeze at.  Like Romney, Paul would come into Iowa better prepared and with higher name ID than he did in 2008.  His ability to raise money turned heads in 2008, and if he can raise that kind of money early on for his campaign this time around, he will be a major factor in Iowa.

Tim Pawlenty shouldn’t be over-looked either.  The three percent in the poll indicates that he is moving the ball in the right direction and is making connections in Iowa.  Pawlenty also has the benefit of having some major players with Iowa roots backing his potential campaign.

Longtime political operatives Terry Nelson and Sara Taylor, two Iowa natives, are already on board with Pawlenty.  Those two are joined by Chuck Larson, Jr., a well-connected former Iowa GOP Chair, state legislator, and Ambassador.  Karen Slifka, a veteran of numerous presidential campaigns who has also served a stint with the RNC, is also on board with Pawlenty.

Another candidate to keep your eye on is Rick Santorum.  If Huckabee and Palin do not run in 2012, Santorum is the best situated to pick up their support.  As a staunch social and fiscal conservative, Santorum doesn’t just talk the talk on issues that matter to Iowa caucus goers, he’s walked the walk.

Like Huckabee, he is a talented and authentic communicator, and like Palin, nobody will question his stance on social issues.  What makes him a real threat is that he also is also very knowledgeable on foreign policy issues, something that the other candidates lack.

In recent weeks, Huckabee has sent signals that he might be up for another presidential run.  If that’s the case, the polls show that he will be the favorite in Iowa.  If he doesn’t run, Iowa becomes an ideal place for new candidates like Pawlenty, Santorum, Perry, or even potential candidates that were not mentioned to take root.  However, if they want to win the caucuses, they will have to overcome Romney and Gingrich to do it.

Don’t Know – 39
Romney – 26
Newt – 18
Paul – 7
Pawlenty – 3
Thune – 1
Perry – 1
Santorum – 1
Barbour – 0
Other – 2
Refused – 2

About the poll: commissioned the poll in conjunction with Concordia Group LLC, an Iowa based public affairs company. The poll surveyed 399 Republican likely voters across the state and has a margin of error of 4.91%. The poll was conducted by Voter Consumer Research, a highly respected polling firm based in Washington D.C. All interviews were conducted via telephone with trained interviewers at Voter/Consumer Research’s phone center in Houston, Texas, between July 25th and July 28th.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson serves as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prior to founding Iowa's largest conservative news site, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. In that capacity, Robinson planned and organized the largest political event in 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll, in Ames, Iowa. Robinson also organized the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa, and was later dispatched to Nevada to help with the caucuses there. Robinson cut his teeth in Iowa politics during the 2000 caucus campaign of businessman Steve Forbes and has been involved with most major campaigns in the state since then. His extensive political background and rolodex give him a unique perspective from which to monitor the political pulse of Iowa.

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