Here are several ways to look at the fledgling Republican presidential field. There are the secular and the morality-based candidates. There are the Tea Party favorites and those preferred by Wall Street. And looking at recent Gallup polls, there are the known and the unknown.
Not surprisingly, it is the prospective candidates with high name recognition that are the early leaders in the muddled GOP field. Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich all have name ID of at least 80% among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. And the quartet comprised the top four in a Gallup Poll of Republican presidential preferences released in mid-March. Huckabee led with 18%, followed by Romney and Palin with 16%, and Gingrich with 9%.
Each has already made their mark on the national scene – Huckabee and Romney as presidential contenders in 2008; Palin as the GOP vice presidential candidate that year; and Gingrich as a former House speaker.
Yet since none of them reached even 20% support in the recent Gallup survey, it gives hope to the relatively unknown group of possible contenders.
Their number includes Govs. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Mitch Daniels of Indiana, former Govs. Jon Huntsman of Utah and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota (who announced March 21 that he was setting up an exploratory presidential campaign committee), and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. None of them had a mid-March name recognition score in the Gallup Poll above 42%.
In addition, there are a pair of potential candidates that are better known than the latter group but not with the high name recognition of the former. The two - Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Ron Paul of Texas - are arguably “cause” candidates capable of elicting passionate support. Bachmann heads the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives; Paul mounted a libertarian bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 that was an Internet sensation.
Thus far, Romney and Huckabee have carved out the clearest bases of support among Republican and GOP-leaning independents. Romney supporters tend to be older, higher income, well-educated, and more focused on business and the economy than moral values. Romney polls strongest in the Northeast and the West.
In contrast, Huckabee runs best among those who are regular church attendees, stress their conservative credentials, and are concerned about cultural issues. He runs best in his native South and the Midwest.
Yet no candidate dominates the Republican field. That leaves a wide opening for the lesser known candidates to dramatically grow their support in the months ahead as their name recognition steadily increases.