Palin gains influence in 2010, but 2012 road could be rocky

Holly Bailey

Sarah Palin was one of the big winners in Tuesday night's primaries, as all five of the candidates she endorsed either won or, in the case of Joe Miller in Alaska's Senate GOP primary, appeared on the verge of winning.

But even if she is proving influential in the 2010 GOP primaries, Palin still has a long way to go if she decides to jump into the 2012 presidential race — especially in the early primary state of Iowa.

A recent Concordia Group/Iowa Republican poll of likely GOP voters in the state found Palin in fourth place behind Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. According to the poll, Palin attracted just 11 percent of the vote — 11 points less than Huckabee, who won the state's caucus in 2008.

Palin's supporters will argue that it's no surprise that she trails Huckabee, who has worked hard to sustain his political profile in the state. But it's the numbers within the poll that should give the former Alaska governor serious pause. As Craig Robertson of the Iowa Republican notes, Palin's unfavorable rating among likely GOP voters in the state is significantly higher than that of any other prospective 2012 nominee.

Of those polled, 57 percent of Republicans viewed Palin unfavorably. That's 11 points higher than President Obama's job disapproval number and 6 points higher than Democratic Gov. Chet Culver's unfavorable rating — a big deal since Culver is currently the most unpopular incumbent in Iowa right now. He's losing his bid for re-election by double digits against Republican Terry Branstad, whom Palin endorsed in the primary.

What's more, Iowa Republicans aren't just mildly disapproving of her: 41 percent of respondents had a strongly unfavorable opinion, 17 percent somewhat unfavorable. That suggests she faces an uphill battle within her own party to reshape her image.

The poll also tested hypothetical matchups between potential 2012 GOP candidates and Obama — and of all the candidates, who also included Haley Barbour and Tim Pawlenty (who barely register in 2012 polls), Palin performed the worst. Among GOP voters, Obama would trounce Palin, 53 percent to 36 percent, while both Huckabee and Romney narrowly came out on top. As Robinson notes, Obama only crossed the 50 percent threshold when matched up against Palin.

(Photo of Palin by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)