Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich formally threw their hats in the ring for the Republican nomination for the 2012 election while Mike Huckabee and Mitch Daniels recently bowed out.
Daniels cited family concerns in his decision not to run. "On matters affecting us all, our family constitution gives a veto to the women's caucus, and there is no override provision," Daniels said. "Simply put, I find myself caught between two duties. I love my country; I love my family more."
Despite strong poll numbers, Huckabee's victory in the Iowa caucuses in 2008, and calls for him to run, Huckabee said he could not run without confidence that he was doing it with "God's full blessing."
"I don't expect everyone to understand this, but I am a believer and a follower of Jesus Christ. And that relationship is far more important to me than any political office. For me, the discussion and decision is not a political one, not a financial one. It's not even a practical one. It's a spiritual one," Huckabee said.
Huckabee was polling well among GOP voters, particularly evangelicals and social conservatives who are key in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina. A poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press suggests that Sarah Palin would be the most likely to scoop up Huckabee's support, if she ran. In March, Pew asked GOP voters who they wanted in the presidential race. Huckabee received 20 percent support among Republican voters. He did even better (29 percent) among evangelicals in the GOP.
The Pew poll also asked who voters second pick was. By using Huckabee supporters second pick, the poll finds that support for Sarah Palin is the most likely to increase. With Huckabee out of the race, support for Palin could increase from 13 to 19 percent. Support for other candidates also increased but not more than the margin of error; the increases could be due to chance.
Palin's support increases even more among evangelicals. Originally, with Huckabee in the field of candidates, Palin was tied with Mitt Romney for second. Each received around 15 percent among these voters. With Huckabee gone, Palin is the top-choice among evangelicals in the GOP with 25 percent support and Romney's support barely increased. Palin did not receive the same support among mainline Protestants, where Huckabee's support spread evenly across all candidates. Because the number of evangelicals in the poll is small (182), the jump in support for Palin should be taken with some caution.
Of course, Palin is not officially a candidate for the Republican nomination, and many insiders do not consider her a likely candidate. Instead, supporters who like Palin may find tea party favorite Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) to their liking. Bachmann is a kind of mini-Palin. Both share many beliefs, and both find support among both religious conservatives and tea party activists.
Bachmann is expected to do better with Huckabee gone, at least to political insiders. The latest National Journal's Political Insiders Poll finds that political operatives predict that Bachmann, Romney, and Pawlenty as the most likely to do better with Huckabee out.
According to the poll, a plurality of both Democratic and Republican political operatives see Pawlenty most likely to gain from Huckabee's exit. Pawlenty is similar to Huckabee in both tone and ideology. Like Huckabee, Pawlenty is an evangelical. Indeed, the former Minnesota governor attends the church pastored by National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson. Pawlenty has yet to show that he has strong support among GOP voters, often polling in the single-digits in polls.
Editor's Note: The Pew Research Center for People and the Press (Pew) provided Christianity Today with a religious breakdown of questions from the poll. However, CT is responsible for all analysis and interpretation of the results. Pew identifies evangelicals as white, non-Hispanic Protestants who described themselves as "born-again or evangelical." Around 18 percent of Americans are evangelicals by this definition. The margin of error for each religious group is larger than for the sample as a whole. The results are descriptive; religious differences could be due to partisanship, ideology, income, or other factors.