For many respondents, former Utah Gov. Huntsman earns the foreign policy nod based on his time as U.S. Ambassador to China. "Tough to outdo a former ambassador to China," said one Democratic operative. "Not like it was ambassador to the Bahamas."
A Republican Insider agreed. "Gov. Huntsman has the most credibility on foreign policy because he understands our biggest competitor now and into the future -- China."
Along with Huntsman's foreign service experience, a common theme among the Insiders was the lack of experience in the rest of the field.
"Is this a trick question?" asked one Democratic Insider. "Huntsman is the only qualified one on the list." Added another: "He's probably one of the few that has had his passport stamped in the last year."
"The list is thin," agreed a Republican Insider. "Huntsman gets the nod for his work in China." Another Republican put it more bluntly, quipping "In the land of the blind, one eye is king."
In a sign of the all-consuming nature of domestic economic issues so far this campaign cycle, many Insiders qualified their choice of Huntsman by pointing out how unlikely his success nevertheless remains.
"Got to be Huntsman," said one Democratic strategist, "but that and a quarter won't get you a coffee at Starbucks." A Republican agreed. "Huntsman won't be the nominee, but it's hard to argue that someone else has more foreign-policy experience."
"Unfortunately, the candidate with the most credibility has no chance of getting the nomination," said another Republican Insider. "Sigh."
While Democratic Insiders overwhelmingly named Huntsman, Republican Insiders were more evenly split and actually gave a slight edge to Mitt Romney.
"One is tempted to say Huntsman on strength of his stint in Beijing," acknowledged one Republican. "But Romney has shown impressive grasp of the key issues, including the importance of both diplomacy and military strength. Plus, frankly, the key foreign-policy issues of the next four years could very likely be economic."
Another Republican chose Romney for somewhat less substantive reasons. "In the absence of true experience, it comes down to gravitas."
On both sides of the aisle, the other candidate making a foreign-policy impression is Newt Gingrich. "On trade and international business, Huntsman has a strong resume," said one Democratic Insider, "but when it comes to national security, Newt seems to be the only one who actually had a seat at the table among this crowd."
"Gingrich, for all his baggage, is probably the smartest of the candidates and has as good a grasp on the foreign issues as anyone," said a Republican. Another Republican pointed out, "Even he will tell you he's the smartest guy in the room."
Still, as with Huntsman, it's not clear that foreign policy mastery will be enough to prop up a Gingrich campaign that has lagged from the start.
"Gingrich was once read into our most sensitive national security secrets," agreed a Democratic strategist, "while the others are pretty much all neophytes. But it won't matter."
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 Political Insiders who are surveyed:
Democrats: 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, 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, Bob Maloney, Jim Manley, Steve Marchand, Jim Margolis, Paul Maslin, Keith Mason, Susan McCue, Gerald McEntee, Tom McMahon, Phil McNamara, David Medina, Michael Meehan, Mark Mellman, John Merrigan, Michael Monroe, Steve Murphy, Janet Napolitano, David Nassar, Marcia Nichols, John Norris, Tom Ochs, Tom O'Donnell, Jeffrey Peck, Debora Pignatelli, Tony Podesta, Jack Quinn, Larry Rasky, Mame Reiley, Ed Rendell, Steve Ricchetti, Will Robinson, Steve Rosenthal, David Rudd, Ryan Rudominer, John Ryan, Michael Sargeant, Stephanie Schriock, Terry Shumaker, Sean Sinclair, Phil Singer, Erik Smith, Doug Sosnik, Greg Speed, Darry Sragow, Ken Strasma, Doug Thornell, Jeffrey Trammell, Ed Turlington, Rick Wiener, James Williams, JoDee Winterhof, Brian Wolff, Jon Youngdahl, and Jim Zogby.
Republicans: Dan Allen, Stan Anderson, Gary Andres, Saulius (Saul) Anuzis, Rich Ashooh, Whit Ayres, Brett Bader, Mitch Bainwol, Brian Baker, 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, Jonathan Collegio, Rob Collins, Cesar Conda, Jake Corman, Scott Cottington, Jay Cranford, Greg Crist, Diane Crookham-Johnson, Fergus Cullen, Tom Davis, Mike Dennehy, Ken Duberstein, 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, Jonathan Grella, Lanny Griffith, Janet Mullins Grissom, Doug Gross, Todd Harris, Steve Hart, Christopher Healy, Ralph Hellmann, Chris Henick, Terry Holt, David Iannelli, Ed Ingle, Jim Innocenzi, Clark Judge, David Keating, David Kensinger, Bob Kjellander, Ed Kutler, Chris LaCivita, Jim Lake, Steven Law, 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, Kevin O'Neill, Connie Partoyan, 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, David Tamasi, 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.