UPDATE 2: A reader emails us to point out the most obvious question regarding Huck’s departure. Who gets the pivotal Chuck Norris endorsement?
UPDATE: Donald Trump just announced he’s not running. It seems the narrative on the primary this week is more about who’s not running than who is. Who does this news benefit? We have no idea. It certainly isn’t good news for comedy writers.
There have been major movements over the last week in the GOP Presidential primary with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich throwing his hat in the ring, while former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee decided he likes the pay at Fox News more than the chance to be President.
On Saturday night on his Fox News program, Huckabee announced that while all signs said go on a Presidential campaign, his heart (and bills) said no. His decision not to run fundamentally shakes up the race, as Huckabee lead or was close to the top of many national polls, and perhaps more importantly, had a significant lead in the early states of Iowa and South Carolina.
Not only does his decision to not run re-jigger the contests in those two key early states, but they leave a wide slice of the electorate without their favorite son. Huckabee was the preferred candidate of social conservatives and southerners based on early polling and his performance last go-round. There is no obvious second choice for these groups, meaning the race is a whole new ball game as of this week.
The last publicly released poll on the race in Colorado was done back in February by left-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP), who had Huckabee tied for second place with Palin at 16%. With it looking more likely by the day that Palin won't run either, that leaves a large amount of Colorado conservatives up for grabs.
Gingrich was right behind Huckabee and Palin at the time with 12%, but his campaign has struggled in the last few months. His candidacy has received a lukewarm reception from conservative leaders and columnists and he has struggled to raise money in the small increments allowed under FEC law. For the last few years Gingrich was able to take seven figure checks from corporations and wealthy supporters to fund his various endeavors, like American Solutions, leaving him unaccustomed to the grind of fundraising that defines a Presidential campaign.
So who gains from a wide open race here in Colorado? The first beneficiary would seem to be Romney who benefits by the field lacking an anti-Romney conservative darling. In that PPP poll from February and in subsequent, less scientific, straw polls Romney has retained a plurality of support, but seems like he would struggle to regain the majority support he had in 2008, when he took 60% of the caucus vote.
The second beneficiary would be Pawlenty, who aims to become the anti-Romney conservative choice. His strategy is in part based on a strong finish in Iowa, so losing the former Iowa winner from the race improves his chance to get a running start from the Hawkeye state. Pawlenty was at 7% in the PPP poll in Colorado, but he's a little known figure who is just beginning to build his name ID among the primary electorate.
The third level of beneficiary would be either Michelle Bachmann or Herman Cain who just gained a chance to audition for the grassroots, social conservative movement candidate. While Huckabee was going to face an uphill battle with fiscal conservatives due to his record as Governor of Arkansas, these two candidates have appeal to both fiscal and social conservatives and now have a chance to gain the support of those two sometimes overlapping constituencies.
Regardless of how you view our analysis on the beneficiaries, one thing is for sure. This race just got blown wide open in the last week.