Mike Huckabee at Iowa Renewal ProjectWith Saturday’s announcement from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee that he wasn’t going to run this cycle the 2012 race for the Republican nomination for President has been busted wide open.

The big question of week is who will benefit?  Where will his supporters go?  There has been much, much, much speculationTons of it.  Let me throw my two cents in here.

I haven’t the foggiest.  All candidates benefit from the void he leaves.  He was the frontrunner, both in in Iowa and nationally.

It’s got to make former Massachusetts Mitt Romney smile, as he’s typically number two or three depending on the poll.  In Iowa if social conservatives don’t coalesce around a candidate then he could skate to a win.  But it’s likely that the field will be winnowed down some after the Ames Straw Poll so it’s a short-term advantage.  His speech on health care was a non-starter, and he will have a difficult time getting those concerned about fiscal policy only on board with his record on this.  So while Huckabee not entering the race removes a roadblock, I don’t see it helping him beyond that.  Romney is really at the mercy of what happens with other candidates.  I believe he is topped out.   He has greater potential to lose support not gain it in Iowa.

Former Governor Tim Pawlenty’s evangelical bona fides may help him pick up some Huckabee supporters.  However being in the state as much as he has been he’s still not as well known and he still hasn’t polled well.  His executive experience will be attractive to some.  His record on life, marriage and other social issues is good, but not extensive.  He will still have trouble with tea partiers regarding his position on education and cap and trade.  Pawlenty also has the ability, I believe better than any other candidate, to pull those who favored Romney in 2008.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann can also benefit.  Actually she’s already been pulling away some former Huckabee supporters like State Senator Kent Sorenson (R-Indianola) and Wes Enos.  I suspect some will give her a hard look as well.  She’s well liked and I’ve been told she will be announcing soon.  She is liked with the TEA party.  She should be a strong candidate, but she needs to spend more time in Iowa which will be more difficult for her to do being a sitting Congresswoman.

Herman Cain could very well be a wild card.  He put in a solid debate performance in South Carolina (minus the question on Afghanistan).  People resonate with his message.  Being a Baptist minister he’s a person that Iowa evangelicals would be comfortable with.  He has significant TEA party support, and along with picking up some Huckabee supporters he could very well gain some momentum.  He is also an attractive candidate for those who value business experience, so Romney loses the “I’m the only businessman in the race” card.  He is arguably one of the best communicators with the current field.  Cain is certainly somebody to watch, and may have the potential to replicate what Mike Huckabee did in Iowa last cycle.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum will also be sure to pick up some Huckabee supporters, especially those whose top issue is abortion.  He also has been solid in communicating a worldview that resonates with former Huckabee supporters.  He also gave a solid debate performance in South Carolina and has been solid in his speeches.  Aside from social conservative issues, he has done, in my opinion, in articulating his position on foreign policy and national security.  He also has been to Iowa, has assembled a pretty good team, and is positioned well in Iowa.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich will likely see some Huckabee supporters go to his camp.  He has a couple of problems that will make it hard for him to gain ground in Iowa.  The first is his personal history of infidelity, even though yes there are some social conservatives who will look past this, there are many who won’t. His second problem is that he just shot himself in the foot with fiscal conservatives, TEA Party folks, and anyone against the individual mandate for health insurance by doubling down on his support of it. Then compared to other candidates from what I’ve seen so far (and I’ll get a chance to look at him again today) he struggles with retail politicking which is essential in Iowa.

Former Ambassador and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman… who?  Seriously he has all the baggage of Mitt Romney and only a fraction of the name recognition.  His is a campaign that is going nowhere, fast and not just in Iowa.  With Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, if he runs and I’m not convinced that he will, I don’t see him benefiting from a Huckabee departure.  I do see him pulling support away from Romney and Pawlenty though.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul may see some support come his way from former Huckabee supporters, but I doubt it will be much.  I believe Congressman Paul has potential to do better this cycle than last, but I still believe he has very limited appeal.  His recent remarks that he would have been unwilling to go after Osama Bin Laden also demonstrates he’s out-of-touch with the majority of the national electorate, not just the Republican Party on this issue.

Donald Trump is out.  He was a flash in the pan prospective candidate.

The obvious wildcard would be former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.  Her announcement one way or the other on 2012 is the next major one I’m sure candidates are looking at.  In Iowa she has polled recently at 3rd or 4th.  She attracts evangelical voters, women voters and she is well liked in Iowa.  She could win over a significant number of Huckabee supporters – if she’s runs.  She’s not been to Iowa since her book tour.  There is some grassroots volunteer organizing being done on her behalf, but that’s it.  I think she can compete here, but she needs to be here.  She will need to announce soon if she intends to run and be competitive in Iowa.

Huckabee not jumping in helps everybody, but I don’t believe it is going to be a silver bullet for anyone in Iowa.  The winner of the Iowa Caucus will have to be the person with the best grassroots organization, who can appeal both to fiscal and social conservatives, and spend a lot of time here.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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