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Bad news for the GOP

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A new CNN/Opinion Research poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents asking their current choice for the 2012 GOP Presidential nomination shows Mike Huckabee in the lead with 34% and Sarah Palin nipping at the Huckster’s heels with 32%.

This is no big surprise, of course, since both have high name recognition and were popular with GOP voters this year. Huckabee burst into the big time by winning the Iowa caucuses and then gave John McCain a tough time in a bunch of southern states. Meanwhile, Palin fever seems not to have cooled for a lot of more conservative voters, although Huckabee still beats her by nine points among evangelical Christians.

But the Democrats won the center a month ago, and based on his approach so far, President-elect Obama seems intent on keeping it for a long time. That’s not to say a lot can’t happen in three years or so to move swing voters the other way again, but if the Republican Party hitches its wagon to either Huckabee or Palin, it’s likely to get permanently stuck in a right-wing ditch. Yet, two-thirds of its “base” is still smitten by one or the other.

Mitt Romney runs a close third, grabbing 28%. One should never underestimate Mitt’s ability to remold himself, especially since he’s still got most of his money, but he’s no McCain and would have a great deal of difficulty winning the nomination and pivoting to the center. Somewhat surprisingly, Newt Gingrich is right behind Romney at 27%, possibly reflecting the nostalgia of economic conservatives for the old days. Then comes Rudy Giuliani at 23%, the only big name with a moderate pedigree who is remotely in contention. Finally, Bobby Jindal, who has probably received the most attention as “a rising star” gets a respectable 19%.

In my view, Rudy is washed up on the national scene, although he might well be able to win the New York governorship. That could give Jindal an opening to snare a larger share of moderate Republican voters, but he would need to stick close to rigid conservative doctrine in order to beat Huckabee, Palin, Romney and/or Gingrich in the primaries. In any case, at such a tender age with a short tenure as Louisiana governor, he’s not likely to jump into on a national run in 2012 against a well-liked incumbent.

So the outlook for the GOP is looking pretty dismal. If he starts now (and unofficially, he has), Huckabee is the most likely Presidential candidate. As amiable a guy as Huck is, good luck with that.

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