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2012 Watch: Huckabee Strong in Alabama

The former governor remains a favorite in the South.

4:58 PM, Feb 9, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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Politico's Jonathan Martin has the goods on a new poll of Alabama Republicans that shows Mike Huckabee leading likely contenders for the 2012 GOP nomination:

Thirty-three percent of Alabama Republicans polled support the former Arkansas governor for the 2012 presidential nomination, while 23 percent said they would back Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee. The next closest Republican to Huckabee and Palin is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who takes 12 percent of the vote.

Clearly the scandal over Huckabee's commutation of cop-killer Maurice Clemmons was not enough to sever the governor's gut connection with grassroots Republican voters.

Mandatory pundit disclaimer: All early polls are worthless because they reflect political conditions that will be fossil fuel by the time voting begins in Iowa in January 2012. Nevertheless, the Alabama poll is in line with other polling and the money race: The three top contenders for the nomination, at this moment, are Huckabee, Palin, and Romney.

Of these three, at this moment, Huckabee is the most broadly popular figure -- he has the best spread between his approval and disapproval ratings, for example, and one of our perspicacious readers notes that Huckabee's lead among the "not so conservative" voters in the Alabama poll is actually six points higher than his lead among "conservative" voters. You don't need to be a winger to like Huckabee, in other words.

Of these three, Palin is the most polarizing, the most fascinating, and the most dynamic political personality. Many grassroots activists feel strongly about her; just as many outside the conservative movement and Republican party do not. Her support is tied to her personality and her story, not necessarily to her political program and certainly not to the notes on her palm. Palin's sheer political talent is like an unstable chemical compound -- you just don't know what may happen next. That makes her thrilling to watch, but Republican primary voters may decide that they'd rather have Palin as their champion and not their president.

Of these three, however, only Romney is acceptable to the coastal GOP bigwigs. (Tim Pawlenty is the establishment's second choice.) A primary that pits the powers-that-be against social conservatives and Tea Party nation will be nasty (but fun!).

The takeaway? Even as liberals hyperventilate and crown Sarah Palin the 2012 nominee, the contest is far from over. Indeed -- it's just getting started.

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