Haven’t we been over this? In a survey released this week by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, 51 percent of likely Republican primary voters polled don’t believe President Obama was born in the United States, with only 28 percent confident that he was. The “birther” contingent—those who believe that Obama’s right to inhabit the White House is void because he isn’t a citizen—clearly aren’t going away; in fact, PPP says there are more now than the last time it polled on the question two years ago.
Which Republicans stand to benefit from this bloc in 2012? According to PPP’s survey, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is birthers’ top pick for president at 24 percent, followed by Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney. National Journal takes a look at what each candidate has said—or strategically not said—about Obama’s citizenship.
No. 1: Mike Huckabee
Ironically, Huckabee—birthers’ No. 1 preferred candidate—isn’t really on board with them. On Fox News’s Geraldo at Large in 2009, he rebuked rumors of a forged Obama birth certificate, saying: “I promise you that Hillary Clinton and her very careful research would have found this out. I kept telling people, there's no way this would have escaped them, and they would have pulled the trigger on it long before the election.”
No. 2: Sarah Palin
The former Alaska governor manifests the most notable polarity among birthers and everyone else: While enjoying 19 percent of birthers’ support for a presidential run, she also scores an 83 percent favorability rating among the group—as opposed to only 47 percent among “non-birther” Republicans. But don’t expect a conciliatory appeal. In a 2009 radio interview with conservative host Rusty Humphries, Palin said: “I think the public rightfully is still making it an issue.... I think it’s a fair question, just like I think past association and past voting records—all of that is fair game. The McCain-Palin campaign didn't do a good enough job in that area.” She later said she was just defending birthers' right to ask the question, not suggesting herself that Obama isn't a natural-born citizen.
No. 3: Newt Gingrich
The former House speaker grabbed 14 percent of birther support, but has perhaps the most controversial quote about the issue on record. In the context of a conversation about Dinesh D’Souza’s Forbes article “How Obama Thinks,” Gingrich postulated about the president’s stint in Kenya: “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”
No. 4: Mitt Romney
Romney is in the camp that says Obama was born in the U.S. or isn't sure. On a recent Late Show With David Letterman, the former Massachusetts governor let his hair down—OK, not really, but he did manage an outfit sans tie. While reading the show’s signature “Top 10,” he quipped, “I have absolutely no idea where my birth certificate is.” But the benign comment was the beginning, and end, of his birther remarks.
No. 5: Tim Pawlenty
The former Minnesota governor, only earning single-digit percentages across the survey, had this to say at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend: “I’m not one who questions the president’s birth certificate and the existence of his birth certificate. But when you listen to his policies, don’t you at least wonder what planet he’s from?" Cue deafening cheers from the congregation.