The announcement by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that he had decided to explore the possibility of a presidential bid means the 2012 race for the Republican nomination is formally underway. Unlike in previous years, the race begins with no clear front-runner, something the venerable Gallup organization reports is “atypical.”
“The wide-open battle for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination—with nearly a three-way tie among Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Mitt Romney—is quite different from the typical pattern observed in past Republican nomination contests,” the polling firm said. “In Gallup polling since 1952, Republican Party nomination races always featured a clear front-runner at this stage of the campaign, and in almost all cases, that front-runner ultimately won the nomination.” [Vote now: Who is your pick for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination?]
There are plenty of people who want the job. Aside from Gingrich, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are widely considered to already be in the race. Additionally, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was John McCain’s running mate in 2008, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain are all believed to be headed towards throwing their hats in the ring.
From 1952—the beginning of the post-war era in American politics—through 2008, there have been nine contests in which an incumbent Republican president was not seeking renomination. As Gallup reports from the archive of its polling data, “2008 is the only year in which the eventual nominee, John McCain, achieved front-runner status relatively late in the campaign cycle.” In the other campaigns, the eventual nominee “rose to the top of the pack in the year prior to the election,” and, in seven of those contests, the front-runner established his position by March, right after the crucial Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. [Read more about the 2012 presidential race.]
“History thus provides no guidelines for how today's highly fragmented Republican race might play out, or for when a strong front-runner is likely to emerge, or who it will be,” Gallup said. “If the race remains close throughout 2011, it may also create unfamiliar political and fundraising dynamics for the national party. As of today, Huckabee is supported by 18 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners, while Palin and Romney are each favored by 16 percent. However, it is quite possible one of the three, or perhaps a different candidate, will break out from the pack before too long, particularly given that some of these candidates may decide not to run. And as the field is clarified, certain candidates may benefit more than others.”