Odd as it might seem, given that her favorability ratings are not that high, the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, is now within the margin of error of the lead in many polls, indicating she very well could be the preferred 2012 presidential candidate of the Republican Party. How did that happen? How did the polarizing conservative firebrand move from a steady fourth or fifth position (depending on which polls were accessed) into second place in a recent Gallup Poll?
According to a Gallup poll released on May 17, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney led all potential Republican presidential nominees with 20 percent of respondents saying they would prefer he be the 2012 GOP choice. Palin was only two points behind. Given the statistical margin of error for the poll (+/- 3 percent), there is a statistical possibility Palin just might be the most preferred of all the candidates.
It appears Palin had a little help from her Republican colleagues and potential competitors. On May 14 former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a leader in many national polls as the preferred Republican candidate, announced via his Fox News talk show that he would not be seeking the GOP nomination in 2012, saying his heart just wasn’t in it. Two days later, businessman Donald Trump, who had also led or maintained a frontrunner position among potential candidates, announced that he, too, would not seek the Republican Party’s nomination in August 2012.
And then, just days after declaring that he was running for president, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich brought down the puzzled wrath of most of the GOP by calling Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal (incorporated in the overwhelmingly Republican-supported 2012 budget passed by the House of Representatives) a “radical change” from current Medicare practices, describing it as undesirable “social engineering.”
Within the space of about 48 hours, Palin had become the second-most preferred Republican who might run for president. And that was before the fallout Gingrich received from his comments, which were made to NBC’s “Meet The Press” on May 15. According to Gallup, Gingrich scored 11 percent of the polling, a full seven points behind Palin. With the blowback from his remarks, not to mention his ineffective attempts at spinning the remarks as some form of “gotcha” media trick, it remains uncertain where the former speaker now might place.
But what about other Republicans that are running or who have not yet declared or formed political action committees? Even Palin herself has yet to commit, although she did seem to edge a bit closer to admitting last week that she would become a contender when she told Fox News commentator Greta van Susteren that she had the “fire in [her] belly” to run for president.
All other candidates and potential contenders thus far have yet to gain more than single-digit support in the polls. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, making his third attempt for the GOP nomination, generated 8 percent support in the Gallup poll. Tea party leader Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has also not declared as yet, only scored 5 percent. Businessman and talk radio host Herman Cain, who declared on May 21, received less than 0.5 percent.
Former Utah governor and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has prompted some excitement as a possible dark horse candidate, possibly in the same vein as the Obama candidacy among Democrats in 2008, but he has little name recognition and only managed to get 2 percent support.
With each passing day, Sarah Palin’s position as a strong challenger to Mitt Romney seems to strengthen. And with no other contenders in the field of hopefuls (at present) that seem able to mount much support with the GOP, it would appear that Palin just might be Romney’s only real challenger for the 2012 nomination.
If she runs.