The former governor is Mormon, used to be pro-choice, and could find himself even more vulnerable with Mike Huckabee out of the race
Mike Huckabee, judging by the early opinion polls, would have been among the most formidable challengers to Mitt Romney, the putative front-runner for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. But Huckabee's departure from the race, paradoxically, could make it more difficult for Romney to prevail.
The reason is that with Huckabee off the field, the former Baptist minister's core constituency -- the evangelical Christians who represent nearly half of the GOP's primary electorate -- are now back in play for all competitors. If Romney can't defang the resistance he encountered from those voters in 2008, he faces the threat that they will eventually consolidate behind another contender, such as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, with potentially wider support than Huckabee demonstrated last time. "The risk for Romney is that some other candidate with broader appeal may attract them, someone who could stitch together a majority coalition in a way that Huckabee was not going to do," says veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres, who is not affiliated with any of the 2012 candidates.
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Even many Republicans underestimate the centrality of evangelical voters in the GOP's nominating process. In 2008, self-identified evangelical Christians constituted 44 percent of all Republican presidential primary voters, according to a cumulative analysis of state exit polls by former ABC polling director Gary Langer. Candidates who rely almost entirely on evangelicals -- such as Huckabee, Gary Bauer in 2000, and televangelist Pat Robertson in 1988 -- have never come close to winning the GOP nomination. But evangelicals are plentiful enough that any candidate whom they deem completely unacceptable faces a formidable obstacle -- and not only in the Deep South, where they are most heavily concentrated.