While a plurality of both Democratic and Republican Political Insiders give Pawlenty the nod over rivals like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is making a second run for the GOP nomination, and long-shots like Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, the sentiment is far from overwhelming or full-throated. As one GOP Insider who said Pawlenty benefits the most put it: "He really doesn't have any political skills to speak of, but he's the closest thing to a plausible candidate with social conservative credentials."
There's another "big name" out there that some Republicans are waiting to hear from on the presidential front, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. But in yet another telling sign that the GOP political establishment doesn't take her very seriously as a 2012 candidate, not a single Republican Insider said that she would benefit from Huckabee's withdrawal. Palin exudes a similar folksy style and shares many of the same views on social issues that Huckabee does, so her being completely overlooked by the party apparatchiks is fairly stunning.
The two linked reasons most often cited by Insiders who saw Pawlenty as a gainer in the post-Huckabee 2012 Republican field were: one, the former Catholic-turned-evangelical Christian is well-positioned to inherit some of the Arkansan's evangelical and born-again supporters; and that could bode particularly well for Pawlenty in the Iowa GOP caucuses where that following gave Huckabee a victory in 2008. Indeed, a strong showing in Iowa is seen as critical to Pawlenty's prospects. Huckabee's decision "takes away the biggest challenge in Iowa, a place he must do well." Echoed another, "Huckabee might have taken Iowa again: now Pawlenty has a better chance of getting a big boost on night one."
The argument for Romney being helped the most by Huckabee's withdrawal is simple: when the front-runner for a presidential nomination loses his biggest rival, it's usually a good thing, especially in a field of candidates that is not loaded with heavyweight contenders. "One less legitimate adult he'll have to deal with," cracked a Democratic Insider of Romney. "The winnowing of the field, especially by a veteran presidential candidate, makes him more inevitable," observed a GOP Insider.
Some Insiders also felt that since Huckabee's support would likely be splintered among other Republican White House hopefuls, that also worked to a front-runner like Romney's advantage. At the same time, few Insiders believe that Romney will be able to attract many of Huckabee's followers. Many evangelical voters--a key voting group in the GOP electorate--are skeptical of Romney because of his Mormon faith, and his shifting stance on abortion and gay rights in the 2008 Republican contest. "I think this block will fragment," predicted one GOP Insider. "The one person who will not benefit is probably the person who needs it the most and that is Mitt Romney."
Some Insiders suspect that Bachmann, should actually become a candidate, would be an attractive alternative to Huckabee's supporters, and not just because of her conservative views on social issues. As one GOP Insider said, "Bachmann has the best chance in the space Mike Huckabee carved out: populist economic rhetoric with a heavy dose of 'I'm just like you.'" But others thought her potential would be undercut by the Minnesotan's better organized campaign. "Bachman could also benefit, but Pawlenty will move quickly."
And withdrawal by Huckabee was another discomforting reminder to some GOP Insiders that their field remains somewhat lacking. And that sentiment has some anxiously looking to the Governor of Indiana to get in the race. "For the first time, I am beginning to worry about our field," acknowledged one GOP Insider. "Maybe we do need Mitch Daniels to announce. His imitation of the 'Hamlet on the Hudson' is getting a bit stale. Daniels is a very attractive candidate and it is time to go."
The National Journal Political Insiders Poll is a regular survey of political operatives, strategists, campaign consultants and lobbyists in both parties. Below are the names of the Insiders who are surveyed:
Democratic Political Insiders: Jill Alper, John Anzalone, Brad Bannon, Dave Beattie, Andy Bechhoefer, Cornell Belcher, Matt Bennett, Mitchell W. Berger, Mike Berman, Stephanie Bosh, Paul Brathwaite, Donna Brazile, Mark Brewer, Ed Bruley, George Bruno, Deb Callahan, Bonnie Campbell, Bill Carrick, Guy Cecil, Martin J. Chavez, Tony Coelho, Larry Cohen, Jerry Crawford, Brendan Daly, Jeff Danielson, Peter Daou, Howard Dean, Scott DeFife, Jim Demers, Tad Devine, David Di Martino, Debbie Dingell, Monica Dixon, Patrick Dorton, Pat Dujakovich, Anita Dunn, Jeff Eller, Steve Elmendorf, Carter Eskew, Vic Fazio, Peter Fenn, Scott Ferson, Jim Fleischmann, Tina Flournoy, Don Foley, Jeffrey Forbes, Vincent Frillici, Gina Glantz, Niles Godes, John Michael Gonzalez, Joe Grandmaison, Anna Greenberg, Stan Greenberg, Pat Griffin, Larry Grisolano, Michael Gronstal, Lisa Grove, Marcia Hale, Jill Hanauer, Dick Harpootlian, Paul Harstad, Laura Hartigan, Doug Hattaway, Mike Henry, Karen Hicks, Leo Hindery Jr., Harold Ickes, Marcus Jadotte, John Jameson, Steve Jarding, Jonathon Jones, Jim Jordan, Gale Kaufman, Lisa Kountoupes, Celinda Lake, David Lang, Penny Lee, Chris Lehane, Jeff Link, Bill Lynch, Bob Maloney, Steve Marchand, Jim Margolis, Paul Maslin, Keith Mason, Susan McCue, Gerald McEntee, Tom McMahon, Phil McNamara, David Medina, Michael Meehan, Mark Mellman, John Merrigan, Steve Murphy, Janet Napolitano, David Nassar, Marcia Nichols, John Norris, Tom Ochs, Tom O'Donnell, Scott Parven, Jeffrey Peck, Debora Pignatelli, Tony Podesta, Jack Quinn, Larry Rasky, Mame Reiley, Steve Ricchetti, Will Robinson, Steve Rosenthal, David Rudd, John Ryan, Michael Sargeant, Stephanie Schriock, Wendy Sherman, Terry Shumaker, Sean Sinclair, Phil Singer, Erik Smith, Doug Sosnik, Greg Speed, Darry Sragow, Ken Strasma, Katrina Swett Sarah, Swisher, Doug Thornell, Jeffrey Trammell, Ed Turlington, Rick Wiener, James Williams, JoDee Winterhof, Brian Wolff, Jon Youngdahl, and Jim Zogby.
GOP Political Insiders: Dan Allen, Stan Anderson, Gary Andres, Saulius (Saul) Anuzis, Rich Ashooh, Whit Ayres, Brett Bader, Mitch Bainwol, Gary Bauer, David Beckwith, Paul Bennecke, Clark Benson, Wayne Berman, Brian Bieron, Charlie Black, Kirk Blalock, Carmine Boal, Jeff Boeyink, Ron Bonjean, Jeff Buley, Luke Byars, Nick Calio, Al Cardenas, Danny Carroll, Alex Castellanos, Ron Christie, Jim Cicconi, Rob Collins, Cesar Conda, Jake Corman, Scott Cottington, Jay Cranford, Greg Crist, Diane Crookham-Johnson, Fergus Cullen, Tom Davis, Mike Dennehy, Ken Duberstein, Steve Duprey, Debi Durham, Sara Fagen, Frank Fahrenkopf, John Feehery, Don Fierce, Mindy Finn, Mindy Fletcher, Carl Forti, Alex Gage, Bruce A. Gates, Sam Geduldig, Adam Geller, Benjamin Ginsberg, David Girard-diCarlo, Bill Greener, Lanny Griffith, Janet Mullins Grissom, Doug Gross, Todd Harris, Steve Hart, Christopher Healy, Ralph Hellmann, Chris Henick, Terry Holt, David Iannelli, Ed Ingle, Jim Innoconzi, Clark Judge, David Keating, David Kensinger, Bob Kjellander, Ed Kutler, Chris LaCivita, Jim Lake, George S. LeMieux, Steve Lombardo, Kevin Madden, Joel Maiola, Gary Maloney, David Marin, Mary Matalin, Dan Mattoon, Brian McCormack, Mark McKinnon, Kyle McSlarrow, Ken Mehlman, Jim Merrill, Lisa Camooso Miller, Tim Morrison, Mike Murphy, Phil Musser, Ron Nehring, Terry Nelson, Neil Newhouse, David Norcross, Ziad Ojakli, Jack Oliver, Todd Olsen, Connie Partoyan, Dana Perino, Billy Piper, Van B. Poole, Tom Rath, Scott Reed, David Rehr, Tom Reynolds, Steve Roberts, Jason Roe, David Roederer, Dan Schnur, Russ Schriefer, Rich Schwarm, Brent Seaborn, Rick Shelby, Andrew Shore, Kevin Shuvalov, Don Sipple, Ken Spain, Fred Steeper, Bob Stevenson, Terry Sullivan, Eric Tanenblatt, Richard Temple, Heath Thompson, Jay Timmons, Warren Tompkins, Ted Van Der Meid, Dirk van Dongen, Jan van Lohuizen, Stewart Verdery, Dick Wadhams, John Weaver, Lezlee Westine, Dave Winston, Ginny Wolfe, Fred Wszolek and Matthew Zablud.
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