Mike Huckabee’s decision to stay at his cushy Fox News job rather than launch a gruelling presidential campaign leaves the Republican presidential race without a clear frontrunner, according to a new Gallup poll.
The new poll found that, with Huckabee out of the race, three Republicans – Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich – emerge at the top of the GOP presidential field.
But voters surveyed had less positive feelings about these three candidates than they had about Huckabee, the former Governor of Arkansas and a favourite among social conservatives.
Romney is now slightly in the lead with 20%. The former Massachusetts Governor – who likely would have repeated his 2008 Iowa loss to Huckabee – now stands to benefit from a divided vote among social conservatives in Iowa.
As we have noted, Palin stands to get a big boost from Huckabee’s exit if she decides to enter the race. The former Alaska Governor – who generates high levels of enthusiasm among Republicans voters – now has a clear shot at Iowa’s social conservative vote. The new poll puts Palin close behind Romney with 18%, up from 10% in Gallup’s April 15-20 survey.
Gallup’s Frank Newport points out that, at this point in the race, Republican voter preferences are largely based on name recognition:
“Palin, Gingrich, and Romney are the three best-known candidates, and they top the list of Republicans’ preferences. Romney and Palin are essentially tied; Gingrich does slightly less well even though he and Romney have nearly identical name identification.
Ron Paul and [Michele] Bachmann are the only other potential candidates with name recognition above 50%. They are also next in line in terms of Republican nomination support.”
Gingrich, the former House Speaker, came in third with 11%. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) came in fourth with 8%, followed by Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann with 5%.
The remaining six candidates in the survey all of had less than 50% name recognition among Republican voters and all had less than 5% support.