Yes, the annual CPAC straw poll is in. CPAC, of course, is the Conservative Political Action Conference, and each year they poll the attendees to get a sense of who they think will be the Republican nominee in the next presidential election. Various Republican politicos, past and present, along with lots of other voices, give speeches and press the flesh in the hallways. Of the roughly 10,000 attendees, 2,935 of them voted for whom they felt should be nominated for the 2012 election.
Ron Paul lapped the field with 31% of the vote!! And the crowd cheered!!! [Oops, okay, they didn't cheer. In fact, they booed quite loud.]
Next up was Mitt Romney, the winner 3 times running, with 22%
Sarah Palin - 7%
Tim Pawlenty - 6%
Mike Pence - 5%
Newt Gingrich - 4%
Mike Huckabee - 4%
So what does this all mean? In short, not much. Ah, but then again, maybe a lot.
First off, at 74 years old (and for lots of other reasons), Ron Paul isn't ever going to be nominated by the Republicans for president. Neither is Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mike Pence, or Mike Huckabee (sorry Huck). Gingrich just likes the money he makes from playing the game. Palin is in it for the money too, though I suspect that she might have it in the back of her mind that she could get nominated under the Tea Party banner. That isn't very likely, especially since the Tea Party is just the extreme right wing of the already right wing Republican party and Palin herself (and others) have said the Tea Party should simply be absorbed by the Republicans (which might - and should - shock those honest tea party members who remember that it was the Republicans who got us into this mess in the first place).
Which leaves Romney, Pawlenty, and perhaps several players to be named later.
Pawlenty is a bit of a wild card. He is still building his national name recognition, and being from Minnesota may not be helpful (can we say Jesse Ventura, Michele Bachmann, and Al Franken?). Still, we'll see.
Mitt Romney is by far the only one in the current field that could possibly get enough votes to win an election. His strength is the economy and if the economy still is in the tank, he has a shot. But he also has a few things going against him. First, he's Mormon. Okay, that won't be a problem for most people but it will for the hard right Republicans. You remember he didn't come close to the nomination in 2008, right? He's also an ex-Governor of Massachusetts, which should help him in the November 2012 vote, but will kill him in the primaries just as it did in 2008. The last factor is the economy. While his economic bona fides leave the rest of the Republicans in the dust, he won't get the chance if the economy has recovered, or if the majority of the public feels like it has recovered or is at least going in the right direction.
Frankly, if the public thinks that the economy hasn't gotten better by 2012 then just about any Republican will get elected. Which is ironic, given when the recession started.