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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 01/20/2011

A three-way pileup atop 2012 GOP presidential race

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

Former Govs. Mike Huckabee (Ark.), Sarah Palin (Alaska) and Mitt Romney (Mass.) make up the top tier of the 2012 Republican presidential field, according to a new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News.

Huckabee took 21 percent of the vote while Palin received 19 percent and Romney 17 percent among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. No other potential candidate made it into double digits, although former House Speaker Newt Gingrich received 9 percent and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took 8 percent. The rest of the field received 3 percent or less support.

The results were largely consistent across demographic groups with Huckabee, Romney and Palin grouped in front.

Huckabee and Palin, in particular, seem to share a common base -- both running more strongly among those with family incomes of $50,000 or less (Huckabee 26 percent, Palin 25 percent) and whites without college degrees (Palin 26 percent, Huckabee 25 percent).

Romney, on the other hand, runs best among the college educated (30 percent), whites making over $50,000 a year (29 percent) and whites with college degrees (32 percent).

Among self-identified conservatives, the top tier expands slightly to include Christie and Gingrich. Nineteen percent of conservatives favor Huckabee as compared to 16 percent for Romney, 14 percent for Palin and 11 percent each for Gingrich and Christie.

Slice that vote even thinner to include only those who describe themselves as "very conservative," and Huckabee emerges as the clearer favorite with 21 percent followed by Palin and Gingrich at 14 percent. Romney takes 12 percent to Christie's 11 percent among that subset.

Huckabee is also the favored candidate of white evangelical Protestants; he takes 29 percent among that group as compared to 22 percent for Palin and 12 percent for Romney.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the data is Christie's surprising strength. Despite having only been elected in November 2009, Christie has rapidly emerged as a real force in national GOP politics; the New Jersey governor insists he has no interest in running for president but numbers like these will continue to drive chatter that he needs to re-think his refusals.

National polling in a presidential primary contest is rightly taken cum grano salis. And that goes double for a survey taken a year before any actual votes will be cast. The nomination will be fought in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina (and maybe a few others), not in national polls.

Still, the poll provides a glimpse into the basic shape of the race in its early stages -- a shape that suggests a clear top tier of candidates in terms of name identification and positive impressions among the GOP electorate.

That doesn't mean one of the lesser known candidates can't push their way into the mix -- particularly if either Palin, Huckabee or both don't run -- but it does suggest a relatively low level of volatility in the upper echelons of the nomination fight.

This Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 13 to 16, among a random national sample that included interviews with 425 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. The margin of sampling error for this population is plus or minus five percentage points. It is larger for smaller sub-groups.

Three Democrats vote for repeal of health care bill: Democrats largely kept their caucus together on Wednesday's health care vote, with just three crossing over to vote in favor of repealing last year's bill.

The three Democrats -- Reps. Dan Boren (Okla.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.) and Mike Ross (Ark.) -- all voted against the bill last year. But, in a win for Democrats, 10 other members of their party who voted against the bill also voted against repeal on Wednesday.

Democrats have done a good job of fighting back on Republican messaging when it comes to the repeal vote, pushing the idea that members of Congress who have government health care are voting against government health care for everyone else (they even offered a symbollic measure that wouldn't allow Republican to repeal the bill until most GOP members forsake government health care themselves).

Republicans responded in kind by pushing for a vote in the Senate -- something that is highly unlikely. Yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is promising one.

A more likely outcome is that this issue fades into the background and never comes to a Senate vote. We'll see how much of an issue this is going forward.


Connecticut political blogger Kevin Rennie reports that Rep. Chris Murphy (D) will enter the race for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I) seat today. Former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D) got in the race Tuesday, and Lieberman announced his retirement on Wednesday. Murphy is widely expected to run.

Jonathan Martin reports that Huckabee's 2008 campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, has taked a job as chief of staff to freshman Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.). But Saltsman says he has a clause that says he can leave if Huckabee runs for president.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's (R-W.Va.) team says both a Senate run and a run for governor are on the table for 2012, even though she won't run in the recently declared 2011 special election for governor.

Vermont state Auditor Tom Salmon, who switched from Democrat to Republican in 2009, is considering a run against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2012. Sanders is not considered vulnerable, but Salmon, who is the son of a former Democratic governor of the same name, could be a formidable opponent.

Former Rep. Mike McMahon (D-N.Y.) looks to be moving toward a rematch with freshman Rep. Mike Grimm (R-N.Y.) on Staten Island.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) leads a generic Democratic opponent 47 percent to 39 percent, according to a new automated Municipoll survey.

Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz (R) will run for retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's (R-Texas) seat.


"Senate map shrinks for Democrats in 2012" -- AP

"Connecticut Dems Speak Bluntly About Race To Replace Lieberman" -- Sam Stein, Huffington Post

"Cheney opens door to tighter gun restrictions" -- MSNBC

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | January 20, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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