While we wait for developments in the health care fight, it's fun to have other political news to distract us.
In a hardly surprising story, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the Values Voters Summit straw poll of 597 conservative activists in Washington this past weekend.
Huckabee pulled approximately 28 percent, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana all clocked in around 12 percent.
Palin clearly has grassroots support, but party insiders and pros seem to doubt she has the focus, self-discipline or judgment to capitalize on the situation.
Given Huckabee's support from religious conservatives, which helped him come in first in the 2008 Iowa Caucus, and his background as a Baptist minister, this isn't shocking.
However, it provides an opportunity to point out that polling in recent months suggests Huckabee is competitive among Republicans for the 2012 GOP nomination. Indeed, most put him in a three-way tie for first place with Romney and Palin, and ahead of Pawlenty, considered the other top-level contender.
There is no question Huckabee's decision to host a regular show on Fox News gives him exposure in the world of Republican primary voters and caucus attendees, enabling him to raise the comfort level these voters never really reached with him during his bid last year.
In some ways Huckabee was the Rodney Dangerfield of that field, never quite getting the respect among more secular Republicans and conservatives.
His cable show might enable him to forge that bond with enough of a slice to become a more formidable contender.
Interestingly, one of the early signs Huckabee might not live up to his potential last year was his failure to perform better in a closely watched March 2006 Republican leadership conference in Memphis, just across the Mississippi River from Arkansas.
Huckabee got religion on field organization after that event and went on to win Iowa. This straw poll suggests he hasn't forgotten the symbolic importance of such early events.
With his movie star looks, organization, personal wealth and connections from 2008, Romney is the insider's pick to be the nominal frontrunner, though Pawlenty, while not yet a household name, seems to be getting his share of attention from the party establishment.
Palin clearly has grassroots support, but party insiders and pros seem to doubt she has the focus, self-discipline or judgment to capitalize on the situation. Her distrust of outside advisers, while understandable given her unpleasant experience with handlers from the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign, makes it likely she won't delegate or build the kind of organization necessary to be successful in such a huge undertaking.
While Pawlenty -- a two-term governor who was on the vice presidential short list of John McCain -- often gets stuck with the image of being a beige Midwesterner, that may not be the worst thing in the world. He could end up being the remainder man -- the candidate who is everyone's second choice, someone who is widely acceptable, with the ability to capitalize when his rivals' shortcomings trip them up.
Considerable curiosity in party circles seems to surround the intentions of Republican Governors Association Chairman and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. While many have a hard time visualizing the slow-talking former K Street lobbyist as a presidential contender, Barbour has as many contacts and IOUs as any living Republican and his political judgment is second to none. After everything we have seen over the last five years or so, who knows?
On the Democratic side, entreaties by Obama White House operatives to beleaguered New York State Gov. David Paterson to step aside for the good of the party appear to have been at least initially rebuffed, but few see Paterson of having any realistic chance of getting retained by voters in 2010, though he could win a divided Democratic primary and then go on to lose the general election.
With former Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani both eyeing a run for the governor's mansion, it would seem that Democrats have decided that no more time can be lost. Indeed, the consequences could be too great, given 2011 congressional and state legislative redistricting.
While a lot of attention is understandably paid to candidate recruitment, from time to time a party has to engage in incumbent "decruitment," convincing incumbents who are perceived to be the walking dead to step aside.
Republican Senate leaders had to engage in that messy matter this year with Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky. The question now is whether Senate Democrats will have to do that with Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. While things are not as dire as earlier this year for Dodd, it's still an uphill battle.
Given the very real chance that Democrats could lose a handful of their Senate seats next year, allowing Dodd to attempt to hold onto his seat could end up being a luxury that the party cannot afford.
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