According to a new Gallup poll amongst GOP voters, Mitt Romney is the new front-runner for the 2012 presidential nominee. According to the poll of Republicans and Republican leaning independents, Romney garners about 26%, Palin gets 21% and Huckabee comes in a close third at 19%. What is also interesting about this poll is that Gallup also asked the same folks about favorable ratings. Here there is no contest, Palin enjoys a 72% favorable rating, Huckabee is at 59% and Romney comes in at 56%. A very revealing dichotomy.

While it is ridiculously early to start talking about 2012, I think this poll reveals something interesting about the GOP party right now. First, we all love Sarah Palin. If Palin announced today that she was running for president in 2012 I think she would still garner a lot of support; at least amongst the GOP. I fear she would struggle nationally head to head against Obama, but by then the economy might be so bad that just about anyone could beat him. So, while the base of the party loves Palin, we recognize the fact that perhaps she is not the most viable candidate and we see someone like Romney as having a lot of cross-sectional appeal. He is a right-center guy (you have to be in order to get elected in Massachusetts), but he still has some pretty conservative roots. More importantly, I think there is a recognition that Romney actually knows something about how the economy works seeing as how he has an MBA and a JD from Harvard and has made millions and millions as a private entrepreneur.

The other good news for Romney is that Palin’s “core” voter is probably Huckabee’s “core” voter as well, e.g. the evangelical, moral majority voter who may be a bit wary about a north-eastern Republican (and a Mormon). Romney casts more appeal amongst the center and probably even attracts more independent voters, which is why he won Michigan in the primaries.

While I was a Romney guy in 2008 (for full disclosure I worked for the Romney campaign) if it did come down to him and Palin, I’d have a rough time choosing. My mind says that Romney is probably the better candidate, but my heart says Palin has more core values that I agree with. The big hurdle that Palin still must overcome is the fact that she is still “unknown”. I mean unknown in the sense that people still don’t really know much about her (outside the tabloid crap) because she has really only been a politician for two years. This didn’t seem to hurt Obama much, but he had Bush to run on.

The big appeal of Palin was the fact that she was a superstar, and she still is. Just a few weeks ago she drew 20,000 people to a rally in upper-state New York, that is big time. There are maybe only a few politicians in this country who can do that, and she is probably the only one in the GOP who can. I had hopes for Jindal in this regards, but he came out flat in his first big national appearance. I like guys like DeMint, Ryan and Cantor for their solid conservative roots, but none of them have that wow factor, Palin has that in spades. Who knows what might happen between now and 2012, but for now it seems Romney is the new GOP favorite.