Peter Bell/National Journal
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updated 3/29/2011 2:34:50 PM ET 2011-03-29T18:34:50

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney continues to be seen as the favorite for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination according to a special National Journal Political Insiders Poll released on Tuesday.

The second favorite for the GOP nod is former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. But Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor who was John McCain’s running mate in 2008 and was once viewed as a potential party standard bearer, was ranked ninth by the GOP Insiders—tied with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Gov. Rick Perry—when they were asked who was most likely going to be their 2012 presidential nominee.

Rounding out the list of the top five contenders for the GOP nomination were Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Romney’s strengths and weaknesses are well known and haven’t changed much since January, the last time the Republican Insiders ranked their prospective 2012 field, and when the former Massachusetts governor also finished first. He has a national network of political and financial supporters and the hard-won experience from having sought the nomination three years ago.

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But many Republican activists are troubled that the healthcare reform law he signed while governor inspired the reform passed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. And some believe he has an authenticity gap.

“Romney still has fundamental advantages no one else has going into this race even with carryover questions from 2008,” said one Republican Insider. “Probably the shakiest GOP front-runner in modern history, but it’s still his to lose,” said another.

Pawlenty is viewed by many GOP Insiders as the 2012 contender with the least political baggage who has positioned himself as a candidate with the broadest appeal to the party conservative base from tea party supporters to values voters. “Increasingly the choice by process-of-elimination,” noted one Republican Insider. “His strategy is to be the least offensive of the ugly girls still standing at the bar at 2 a.m.,” joked another GOP Insider.

And while a Palin candidacy was largely disregarded by GOP Insiders, some cautioned that she should not be dismissed. “Forget the numbers; if she gets in, she will be formidable,” said one GOP Insider. “Still the most charismatic option,” added another. “You never know.”

The standings were determined by Republican Insiders who were asked to rank, one-thru-five, the top five contenders who they think are most likely to capture the GOP 2012 presidential nomination. A first-place vote is worth five points; a second-place vote is worth four points and so on.

The contenders’ rankings reflect the percentage of total points each receives out of the maximum possible. For example, Mitt Romney received a rating of 83, meaning he received 83 percent of the possible 520 points, the number he would have received if all 104 participants in the poll this week had ranked him first.

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The National Journal Political Insiders Poll is a regular survey of political operatives, strategists, campaign consultants, and lobbyists in both parties. Below are the names of the Republican Insiders who are surveyed:

GOP Political Insiders Dan Allen, Stan Anderson, Gary Andres, Saulius (Saul) Anuzis, Rich Ashooh, Whit Ayres, Brett Bader, Mitch Bainwol, Gary Bauer, David Beckwith, Paul Bennecke, Clark Benson, Wayne Berman, Brian Bieron, Charlie Black, Kirk Blalock, Carmine Boal, Jeff Boeyink, Ron Bonjean, Jeff Buley, Luke Byars, Nick Calio, Al Cardenas, Danny Carroll, Ron Christie, Jim Cicconi, Rob Collins, Cesar Conda, Jake Corman, Scott Cottington, Greg Crist, Diane Crookham-Johnson, Fergus Cullen, Tom Davis, Mike Dennehy, Ken Duberstein, Steve Duprey, Debi Durham, Sara Fagen, Frank Fahrenkopf, John Feehery, Don Fierce, Mindy Finn, Mindy Fletcher, Carl Forti, Alex Gage, Bruce A. Gates, Sam Geduldig, Adam Geller, Benjamin Ginsberg, David Girard-diCarlo, Bill Greener, Lanny Griffith, Janet Mullins Grissom, Doug Gross, Todd Harris, Steve Hart, Christopher Healy, Ralph Hellmann, Chris Henick, Terry Holt, David Iannelli, Ed Ingle, Clark Judge, David Keating, David Kensinger, Bob Kjellander, Ed Kutler, Chris LaCivita, Jim Lake, George S. LeMieux, Steve Lombardo, Kevin Madden, Joel Maiola, Gary Maloney, David Marin, Mary Matalin, Dan Mattoon, Brian McCormack, Mark McKinnon, Kyle McSlarrow, Ken Mehlman, Jim Merrill, Lisa Camooso Miller, Tim Morrison, Mike Murphy, Phil Musser, Ron Nehring, Terry Nelson, Neil Newhouse, David Norcross, Ziad Ojakli, Jack Oliver, Todd Olsen, Connie Partoyan, Dana Perino, Billy Piper, Van B. Poole, Tom Rath, Scott Reed, David Rehr, Tom Reynolds, Steve Roberts, Jason Roe, David Roederer, Dan Schnur, Russ Schriefer, Rich Schwarm, Brent Seaborn, Rick Shelby, Andrew Shore, Kevin Shuvalov, Don Sipple, Ken Spain, Fred Steeper, Bob Stevenson, Terry Sullivan, Eric Tanenblatt, Richard Temple, Heath Thompson, Jay Timmons, Warren Tompkins, Ted Van Der Meid, Dirk van Dongen, Jan van Lohuizen, Stewart Verdery, Dick Wadhams, John Weaver, Lezlee Westine, Dave Winston, Ginny Wolfe, and Fred Wszolek.

The article, "GOP Insiders Say Romney's Still Number One," first appeared in the National Journal.

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

Video: Will social conservatives sink the GOP in 2012?

  1. Closed captioning of: Will social conservatives sink the GOP in 2012?

    >>> the 2012 gop hopefuls are playing to social conservatives . of course. they do it all the time. they're going to iowa and trying to please them in 18 different ways. let's start with haley barbour . he went on a conservative radio show on friday and wanted to explain why we should reinstate the policy of don't ask don't tell.

    >> when you're under fire and people are living and dying on split-second decisions, you don't need any kind of amorous mind set that can affect saving people lives and killing bad guys .

    >> amorous mindset? i like where haley barbour is going. i wonder what they're thinking in that fox hole . by the way, 19-year-old straight troops don't have amorous mindsets? i think that's pretty much all guys. and how about republican presidential candidates . they don't have amorous mindsets. if you're worried about amorous mindsets, this is the guy you have to worry about. of course, gingrich joined his conservative friends in iowa on saturday. steve king was hosting conservative principles conference in des moines , iowa . 500 people attended including gingrich and some of the other candidates. of course, all the candidates tried to establish their social conservative street cred including newt.

    >> some people may tell you we should stay away from values and stay away from social issues. i'm here to tell you if you don't start with values and start establishing with who we are as americans, the rest of it doesn't matter.

    >> come on, are you serious? gingrich talking about values. we're talking about values? we had three wives! two mistresses. i don't even want to tell you how he left some of his wives. all right, but look, he wasn't the favorite in the conference. it turned out to be herman caine . partly owned godfather's pizza. he's a real social conservative . and he doubled down on his anti-muslim views in an interview with think progress .

    >> would you be comfortable appointing a muslim in your cabinet or as a federal judge .

    >> no, i will not. and here's why. there's this creeping attempt, there's this attempt to gradually ease sharia law and the muslim faith into our government. it does not belong in our government.

    >> who's doing that? that's cuckoo for cocoa puffs . there are no muslims invading the country trying to take over the country with their laws and sharia. where? what are you talking about? you know the people who are doing that? i've got to be honest with you. christian conservatives . they keep telling us, including at that conference, you've got -- no, no, no it's all about values. my values. i want to impose my values on you. so hey look, if you say religionle should not influence our laws, whoa, deal. let's shake on it. look, honestly, i thought that was the whole point of the conservative principles meet-up, but apparently not. herman caine ended up winning the straw poll . i say of course, but that's a little surprising. don't get too excited only 127 people voted. what were the others doing? out of the 500 only 127 voted. the rest were like thanks for the barbecue, see you later . i don't know if they had a barbecue. so in the end, it's up to balk man to bring home the special issues that were important because the founding fathers said so point.

    >> the truth is, social conservatism is fiscal conservatism . john adams wrote, it is only for moral and religious nation, this constitution that we write. it is wholly unsuited for any other. you can not build a nation unless it is built upon a rock solid foundation.

    >> like sharia law . i'm sorry, that's the wrong religious. we want the christian religion enforced on everybody else . here's something else the founding fathers said. don't mix church and state . don't do it. it's a bad idea. funny how she didn't quote that part. now, the important question is, will this focus on social issues help or hurt these republicans? let's find out. joining me now is david millbank, columnist for "the washington post ," and steve kornacke, political columnist for salon.com. going over there and running on these issues, is it a good idea or bad idea politically?

    >> it's not as if it's a choice. it's the only way you can survive. that's why a guy like tim pawlenty wasn't participating in this one. but in the last cattle call , he sounded like a southern preacher. he even adopted a phony southern accent as best i could tell. you know, haley barbour is -- you know, his definition is conservatism is, you know, getting the baked potatoes instead of the onion rings at his stakous. -- steak house . whether or not it's good politics in the campaign against obam that is irrelevant. they're not going to get the nomination unless they satisfy the religious conservatives.

    >> i want to come back to pawlenty later because he's one of my favorites. mitt romney didn't go, pawlenty didn't go. why didn't they go if these guys are the gatekeepers.

    >> you don't want think romney wanted to go and engage in prejudiced hiring like caine ? he's the last sane guy standing . you let iowa go, let one of the early states go and maybe in a worst case scenario for the republican party , someone like michele bachmann comes ou the and wins iowa . if you're mitt romney you're hoping that still 50%, 60% of the republican party is sane enough to say absolutely not. no way. let's go make mitt romney the nominee now.

    >> first off, let me go to you on this. can romney win without winning iowa ? iowa is pretty damn important as we saw with barack obama 's candidacy. and second of all, does michele bachmann had a real shot at iowa ?

    >> certainly those of us in the journalistic party hope so. because she's been an endless source of amusement to us. but, you know, look, it has always been calculated. and john mccain was the real test, can you ignore iowa and get away with it. he ignored it in 2000 and didn't quite get away with it. so in theory, you can do that. in practice, it will be a very difficult to pull that off for him.

    >> so if bachmann -- bachmann gets -- wins iowa , okay, if that's a big if, but i think it's possible. she energizes the crowd like no other.

    >> from your lips to god's ears.

    >> if she does that, is she a real contender?

    >> no, i don't think so. i think the republican party has obviously clearly for decades now been moving farther and farer in the right in the way information flows now. you know, it really is tougher than ever to get away from a bachmann message and succeed in the republican party . pat robertson went out to iowa and got 27% of the vote. alan keyes got third place in 2000 . they've been coming closer and closer to this moment. there used to be somebody like george w. bush who could sort of tower over them and could be acceptable and then you can have the establishment. there's not that big acceptable guy who can run and nip these guys in the bud there. .

    >> but if she wins in iowa , are you sure she's not going to win in south carolina ?

    >> here's what it is. it's what happened when pat buchanan beat bob dole in the new hampshire primary. the republicans did not like bob dole . but they said we'll put the sleepy old man up because there's no way we'll put pat buchanan up.

    >> i think this republican party is a lot crazier. and they love bachmann . but dana, look, i liked the two people from minnesota on the republican side . that's me coming back to pawlenty who i think is the dullest candidate we've had in a long, long time. i want to play a game with an audience before i ask you. we all know he was governor of minnesota, ewe watch the news you know that. what else has pawlenty done? give him time, give him time. i don't know. i don't even know. dana what has he done? i think bachmann has a ten times better chance than pawlenty . what do you think?

    >> he was a champion for cap and trade. oh, wait. he's taken that back now. never mind. he's a guy -- look, governors are -- should be competitive in a general election . he's got a decent record of running in what is primarily a blue state . the primary electorate doesn't necessarily want to hear about that right now. the south carolina electorate is going to look a lot like iowa . it's become a narrower and narrower slice making that decision. i don't think it's all impossible that a michele buckmbuc bachmann getting voters that would otherwise have gone to sarah palin .

    >> it's a fascinating conversation. it's going to go on for a while. thank you for your time tonight. we appreciate it.

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