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Early Polls Show Huckabee In The Lead, But Will He Even Run?

4:57 AM ET, 01/13/2011

In two recent Iowa caucus polls, Mike Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 contest, leads a field of potential 2012 candidates.

In a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, Huckabee leads the field with 30 percent of the vote.  He is followed by Romney at 18 percent, Palin with 15 percent, Newt Gingrich with 13 percent, Ron Paul with 6 percent, Tim Pawlenty with 4 percent, John Thune with 3 percent, and Mitch Daniels with 1 percent.

Another poll, this one conducted by Neighborhood Research, showed Huckabee with 24 percent, Romney with 19 percent, Palin with 11 percent, and Gingrich with 8 percent.

The results of these two polls are not surprising.   In fact, they are very similar to the results of poll last summer.  The TIR poll showed Huckabee leading with 22 percent, followed by Romney with 18 percent, Gingrich with 14 percent and Palin with 11 percent.

When you look at all three polls collectively, the one thing that jumps off page is that, even though the 2010 elections are now two months behind us, the 2012 presidential campaign has yet to begin in Iowa.  Until the candidates actually announce their intentions to run and the field solidifies, the polls are likely to continue to reflect the results of the last contest, not the one that is about to take place.

Early polls that include candidates that ultimately don’t run make them basically worthless.  In the case of these two polls, there is a lot of doubt whether Huckabee and Palin will even run.  It’s one thing if you include a candidate like Mitch Daniels or John Thune who don’t garner much support, but that’s not the case with Huckabee and Palin who garner over a third of the support of those that were surveyed.

The topic of whether or not Huckabee runs in 2012 has been somewhat of a rollercoaster in Iowa.  Last summer, some of his most ardent supporters didn’t believe he would walk away from his radio and TV deals.  Now that the 2010 campaign is over, those same people are now of the mindset that another Huckabee run is a possibility.

Here in Iowa, Huckabee is acting more like a loyal friend than a presidential candidate.  While Huckabee has made numerous visits to Iowa since winning the 2008 caucuses, each of his trips has been about coming to the state to raise money for his friend, Bob Vander Plaats, Huckabee’s 2008 Iowa Caucus Chairman.

Huckabee has visited Iowa to raise money for Vander Plaats’ campaign for governor twice, once in June of 2009 and again in February of 2010.  He returned to Iowa after the 2010 elections to headline a fundraiser for The FAMiLY Leader, a group that Vander Plaats now leads.  Before one can consider Huckabee a likely presidential candidate, he will have to do more than visit Iowa when a Bob Vander Plaats campaign or organization needs a fundraising boost.

Make no mistake, Huckabee casts a large shadow on the 2012 caucuses.  If he runs again, he will be the frontrunner in Iowa.  That is not necessarily an enviable position to be in.  There have been plenty of candidates who have faired well in one caucus cycle only see their star fade in their second attempt.

On the Democrat side, Dick Gephardt won the caucuses in 1988, but finished a disappointing fourth place in 2004.  More recently, John Edwards finished a surprising second place in 2004, but couldn’t increase his standing when he ran again in 2008.   While he finished in second place again despite the presence of political heavyweights Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, he couldn’t exceed the media’s expectations, and the strong second place finish was viewed as a failure..

Republicans have seen similar results.  Pat Buchanan almost upset Bob Dole in 1996, but four years later his campaign never took off, and he ended up running as an independent.  In 1996, Lamar Alexander beat expectations, and so in 2000, many thought that he would do very well in Iowa.  His campaign ended shortly after the Straw Poll.

I highly doubt that Huckabee would struggle like Alexander and Buchanan did, but the 2012 caucuses will be much different for him if he does run.  The expectations that will be placed on him to win Iowa, guarantee that Huckabee’s path to victory, should he run, will be much more difficult.

As for these early polls, it seems like the pollsters and political pundits are more eager for the 2012 caucus cycle to officially begin than the candidates are.  While the polling results are interesting, the fact that there really isn’t any difference between a poll taken last July and a poll taken earlier this month means that we shouldn’t get too worked up about any poll until we know who is actually running.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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