Mitt Romney sits atop the field of potential Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential nomination in more ways than one in the new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Numerically, he garners the most support in candidate preference and he is the most competitive with President Obama in hypothetical 2012 match-ups.

The former Massachusetts governor also appears stronger than the rest of the field on another dimension: nearly a quarter of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents – 24 percent – say they would strongly consider voting for him for the nomination, and another 46 percent would consider supporting him. Just 18 percent say they would definitely not vote for him in a primary or caucus held today.

Romney is the only potential GOP candidate tested out of 12 who scores a net positive on this consideration measure, the percentage strongly considering minus definitely not. The next closest is Rudy Giuliani at -6 followed by the less-well-known Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty all in single negative digits.

Sarah Palin and Jon Huntsman each earn a -14 score, but get there through quite different paths. Palin, with 24 percent strongly considering her, matches Romney on the positive side but has much higher negatives at 38 percent definitely ruling her out – the highest of any candidate. Jon Huntsman Jr. gets just 5 percent strongly considering him and 19 percent definitely not. A vast 60 percent expressed no opinion.

At the bottom of the list sits Ron Paul with a net negative score of -22. He’s closely grouped with Newt Gingrich (-20), Rick Santorum (-19) and Gary Johnson (-19).

There are some sharp differences in Romney’s appeal among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, especially by gender. Women are much more likely than men to strongly consider him, by +12 versus -1, respectively. The difference is even more striking by education, with college educated Republicans strongly considering him by a 21-point margin over definitely rejecting him. But he’s at -1 among those without college degrees.

Sarah Palin is extremely polarizing within her party, especially based on ideology. Among those who describe themselves as very conservative, she earns a +18 point consideration score, but that swings to a -25 among those who see themselves as just somewhat conservative. Strong tea party supporters hold her in the highest regard with a positive +29 point score. But that falls to -26 among Republican and GOP-leaning independents who are less than strong supporters or oppose it.

The telephone poll was conducted June 2-5 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. The results reported here are among 435 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.