More and more, it looks like Mitt Romney holds the most weighty combination of popularity and staying power in the 2012 Republican presidential primary.
The race is now led by Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, and Romney, according to the latest national polls. No other candidate really reaches into the top tier. Here's a list of results from three recent major polls:
Gallup, April 15-20 Huckabee 16% Trump 16% Romney 13% Palin 10% Paul 6%ABC/Washington Post, April 14-17 Romney 16% Trump 8% Huckabee 6% Palin 5% Paul 2%CNN, April 9-10 Huckabee 19% Trump 19% Palin 12% Gingrich 11% Romney 11%
Romney's average places him clearly in the top three, well ahead of Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul. There is separation in the 2012 race, and the top tier of Trump, Huckabee, and Romney enjoys much better numbers than the rest of the field.
State by state, Romney performs well, though no major firms have published Iowa or New Hampshire polls since Trump's arrival on the 2012 scene.
In Iowa, American Research Group shows Romney placing a close second to Huckabee. In New Hampshire, a new Dartmouth poll shows Romney vastly outperforming other Republicans in head-to-head matchups with President Obama. Romney handily leads the GOP field in Florida, according to Suffolk University and Mason-Dixon.
Right now, we have good reason to consider Romney the leader, simply because Trump and Huckabee, his main competitors, don't figure to have as much staying power.
Trump is not thought of as a serious candidate, and his polling spike looks a lot like the rush enjoyed by Fred Thompson before he announced his actual campaign in 2008. Trump could turn out to be a real contender, but right now, no one really knows, and most are guessing he won't.
Huckabee, meanwhile, stunned almost everyone by winning Iowa in 2008. Based on the current polling, he could do it again. But Huckabee seems to have a limited base of evangelicals and social conservatives. He can perform well in Iowa and the South, but he might not have a broad enough appeal to win the whole contest. More to the point, Huckabee hasn't raised a significant amount of money, while all of his top competitors have. While Romney raised $5.5 million to his national political group last year, Huckabee raised less than $1 million to his.
Romney has problems of his own. He signed the Massachusetts health care law, which included a mandate that residents buy health insurance. A similar provision in President Obama's new health law caused national conservative outrage and his now being challenged in federal court. He used to hold moderate views on social issues, when he operated in New England.
Current dynamics could change, a lot, as the campaign gets fully underway. If they run, candidates like Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, and Mitch Daniels will get more exposure. Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin will have the opportunity to make convincing cases to voters in early primary states.
But for now, in a field that's still gaining definition, Romney appears to be evolving into a frontrunner, if he hasn't reached that status already.