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The (still) muddled 2012 field

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The 2012 Republican presidential primary field has grown increasingly clear in the past week with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and businessman Donald Trump stepping aside and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann moving closer to the contest.

And yet, the latest data from Gallup, which seeks to account for where the votes of Huckabee and Trump will wind up, suggests the field remains decidedly muddled with no clear frontrunner. (Gallup doled out the past support for Huckabee/Trump based on the second place preferences of those voters.)

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney takes 20 percent to 18 percent for former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and 11 percent for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) took eight percent while Michele Bachmann (Minn.) received five percent each.

“There is no clear front-runner in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination,” declared Gallup’s Frank Newport in a memo detailing the results.

Viewed even more broadly, what the Gallup data suggests is that the race is simply not engaged for most Republican primary voters.

The three candidates — Romney, Palin and Gingrich — who comprise the top tier in the Gallup data also happen to be the three people with the highest name recognition among Republican voters at the moment.

The next level — Paul and Bachmann — were the only other two candidates who had name identification scores over 50 percent in the Gallup survey.

As we have written before, the race for president is like an iceberg — ninety-five percent goes on below the surface. It’s important to remember that we still in that below-the-surface stage for most primary voters let alone the broader general election electorate.

It’s not at all surprising then that the no-go decisions by Huckabee and Trump have done little to move the needle yet. Voters are still simply picking the names they know rather than engaging in any deeper way with the entire field.

That will come in time — a reality that makes building momentum in the next three to six months all the more important for all the candidates but particularly those who remain largely unknown to GOP voters.

The 2012 race remains in its embryonic phase. It’s important to keep that in mind when making broad proclamations about who can and can’t win. At this point, it’s the most wide open Republican presidential primary fight in at least three decades.

Surprise in California: Republican Craig Huey did surprisingly well in in the California 36th district special election primary last night, meaning he could go on to face Democratic Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn in a July 12 runoff. Right now, Huey is in second place in this generally Democratic district. However, AP has not yet called the race, as provisional and absentee ballots are still being counted.

The contest was held to replace former Rep. Jane Harman (D), who resigned earlier this year to lead the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. It was the first test of California’s new “jungle primary” system, in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, go on to face each other if no candidate captures a majority of the vote.

Democratic Secretary of State Debra Bowen has not yet conceded. There’s only a 206-vote margin between her and Huey, a wealthy businessman. Liberal activist Marcy Winograd came in fourth, with 9.5% of the vote. Dan Adler, known for his strange ads, got half of one percent.

Crossroads ups ante in NY-26: American Crossroads has put another $375,000 into the New York 26th district special election, expanding television ads in the Buffalo and Rochester markets. The conservative group‘s total investment in the race now totals about $700,000.

“Special elections are tricky things, especially when third party spoilers create artificially confusing environments for voters,” said American Crossroads communications director Jonathan Collegio in a statement. Pro-Democratic House Majority PAC is also advertising in the district.

Millionaire third-party candidate Jack Davis has been pulling votes in polls from Republican Jane Corwin, giving Democrat Kathy Hochul a chance at victory in a GOP-inclined district. The race has also become a proxy war over Medicare, with both sides claiming the other will endanger coverage for seniors.

Photo finish in Florida mayoral race: The Jacksonville, Florida mayoral race ended without a winner last night — Democrat Alvin Brown has a razor-thin 603-vote lead over Republican Mike Hogan. More ballots are being counted this morning, and a recount is likely.

That a Democrat could even come so close is surprising; Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R) said yesterday that the GOP expected Hogan to win “prettily handily.” Last time there was an open race for this post, in 2003, the Republican won by 16 points.

If he wins, Brown would be the city’s first African-American mayor.

FixBits:

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) is not happy with either party’s redistricting plans.

The White House has shut out the Boston Herald from a presidential event today.

A Democrat won in a special election for the New Hampshire House of Representatives last night, in the Republican speaker’s home district.

State Senate President David Williams won in Kentucky’s GOP gubernatorial primary last night, in a closer-than-expected race.

Willie Nelson has endorsed Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was hit with glitter at a book signing last night.

Doctors plan to remove a piece of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ skull and replace it with an implant, an encouraging step in her recovery.

Must Reads:

Romney has it all — except GOP activist support” - Charles Babington, AP

Threats to members hard to calculate” - Daniel Newhauser, Roll Call

Gingrich’s bumpy start deepens doubts about his presidential candidacy” - Amy Gardner and Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

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