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Posted at 7:14 AM ET, 03/ 3/2011

2012 and the fight for second

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows former governors Mike Huckabee (Ark.) and Mitt Romney (Mass.) in the lead, but the more telling data point may well be in the second choice numbers.

Asked for their first choice in the Republican presidential contest, Huckabee took 25 percent to Romney's 21 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich received 13 percent, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin 12 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul 6 percent and 3 percent for former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

Pressed for their second choice, all of the candidates lost support except for Palin, who bounced up to 14 percent, and Pawlenty whose support effectively tripled from 3 percent to 8 percent.

Pawlenty and his political team have to be happy with that result, as it suggests that while he can't match Romney and Huckabee in terms of name identification, he is seen as palatable to a broader range of people, which bodes well for his growth potential moving forward.

And it's worth remembering that most national polling at this point is almost entirely a test of name identification and has not traditionally been an accurate predictor of the identity of the nominee.

(Remember that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton held a wide lead in national surveys over Sen. Barack Obama for months, but it ultimately meant little as Obama won Iowa.)

Much of the race is on potential at the moment. And second-choice voting is largely done on potential rather than simply name recognition.

That doesn't mean that Pawlenty's work is done. Three percent is still 3 percent, and Pawlenty is still way off the lead being set by Huckabee and Romney.

But it does give Pawlenty and his supporters a positive sign that people are willing to hear him out.

Union bill moves forward in Ohio: The Ohio state Senate has done what the Wisconsin state Senate cannot, passing a bill stripping public employee unions of collective bargaining rights.

But it wasn't easy. The bill passed by one vote, 17 to 16, with six Republican state senators voting against it. And before that, the GOP's state Senate president was forced to remove two of those six Republicans from key committees that had to clear the bill first.

Republicans have a 59-to-40 majority in the state House, and Gov. John Kasich (R) supports the bill.

The news only ups the ante in Wisconsin, where new GOP Gov. Scott Walker is trying to do the same thing in order to help balance the state's budget. But state Senate Democrats have fled the state to prevent a vote, and protesters have flooded the state capitol.

Indications from recent polls are that the general public opposes taking away public employees' collective bargaining rights.

All eyes on Lingle: Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) announced Wednesday night that he won't seek another term in the Senate -- a move that opens the door for Republicans in yet another Senate race.

In fact, the big name in the race may well be a Republican. Former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), who left office two months ago, has made no secret of her interest in running for Senate, and with Akaka now retiring, the seat would appear a prime opportunity for the former governor.

Lingle has said, though, that she won't make a decision on the race during the first half of the year.

A two-term governor, Lingle didn't quite leave on a high note -- polling late in her final term showed her disapproval higher than her approval -- but she would bring a significant fundraising presence and political know-how to the race.

Other potential Republican candidates include recently defeated former Rep. Charles Djou, who said Wednesday that he will consider the race. On the Democratic side, Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and former Rep. Ed Case could run. Case ran in a primary against Akaka in 2006 and in the special congressional election Djou won last year.

Salmon launches exploratory committee: Vermont state Auditor Tom Salmon (R) announced Wednesday that he's forming an exploratory committee for the race against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2012.

Salmon, who switched from Democrat to Republican in 2009, has been publicly considering the race for a while now, but an exploratory committee is a serious first step.

Sanders is not considered vulnerable, but Salmon would give Republicans a candidate with statewide experience.

"I think at this point, there are probably three people who think I can win, and the good news is I'm one of them," Salmon told WCAX-TV.

Liberals put up Medicare billboards in Midwest: In response to reports that some members of the House GOP are considering attempting to privatize Medicare, the liberal advocacy group Americans United for Change is targeting three freshman Republicans with billboards in their home districts.

Signs went up in the districts of Reps. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), and Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.).

The ads are an attempt to tie three potentially vulnerable new lawmakers to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has floated the idea of replacing Medicare with a fixed payment to buy a private medical plan.


By a margin of 58 percent to 36 percent, Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling the federal budget deficit, according to a new Quinnipiac poll.

Mike Huckabee fights back against criticism after he mistakenly said that Obama was raised in Kenya, while doubling down on the point he was trying to make. "I have said many times, publicly, that I do think he has a different worldview, and I think it is, in part, molded out of a very different experience," Huckabee said on a radio show.

The book that Florida state Senate President Mike Haridopolos was paid $152,000 to write is now available online. Before the Florida media brought the issue to the fore, only one copy was available. Haridopolos is running against Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) is accusing the Obama Administration of wanting higher gas prices in order to promote alternative fuels.


"Gingrich advisers explain mixed signals" -- Jeff Zeleny, New York Times

"Wife's charity offers corporate tie to a governor" -- Eric Lipton, New York Times

"Voicemails detail Edwards' affair" -- Steve Daniels, WTVD-TV

"Corwin In Good Position For Conservative Party Nod" -- Jessica Taylor, Hotline On-Call

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | March 3, 2011; 7:14 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: North Carolina: The GOP's Golden Goose of redistricting

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