By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
A new ABC News/Washington Post poll surveying the 2012 Republican presidential field shows that only one thing is clear: the race for the GOP nomination is still very much up for grabs.
In the new poll, 21 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they support former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for their party’s nomination, 19 percent are behind Sarah Palin and 17 percent favor former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. http://abcn.ws/gjdKIC
In all, the survey tested 14 potential GOP candidates and besides Huckabee, Palin and Romney, the rest of the field all polled in the single digits, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who landed at 9 percent.
Interestingly, right on Gingrich’s heels is New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie, an emerging star in the Republican Party who continues to deny that he is interested in running for president in 2012. Christie polled at 8 percent.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, all garnered 2 percent in the poll. While Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman got 1 percent.
ABC News polling analyst Gary Langer cautions: “A famous name and an early lead don’t, in and of themselves, promise success. Rudy Giuliani held a 7-point lead over John McCain a year before the 2008 GOP primaries began, and on the Democratic side Hillary Clinton held a staggering 24-point lead over a little known Illinois senator named Barack Obama. It didn’t work out that way.”
And don’t forget the other crucial data point from this week’s ABC News/Washington Post poll: President Obama’s approval rating is now hovering above 50 percent. Fifty-four percent of Americans said they approve of Obama's job performance this week, up 5 points from last month.
A fresh NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed a nearly identical presidential approval rating number — 53 percent — an indication of the steep challenge facing any one of the potential Republican contenders.
BOTTOM LINE: This was supposed to be the Republican's week, but the optics weren’t on their side. Yesterday’s health care repeal vote in the House of Representatives, which was already delayed due to the Tucson shooting, had to share a split screen with red carpet State Dinner entrances (What was Anna Wintour wearing? There’s Jon Huntsman making an awkward sprint past reporters pressing him about a potential White House run.) http://abcn.ws/hYITc6
And yesterday’s vote came as every major poll shows President Obama with rising approval ratings (see above.) Next week, of course, the president gets to command the media stage again as he delivers his State of the Union address. The biggest storyline from Congress that week will be the seating chart.
Check out ABC News’ early look at the key players in the Republican presidential field: http://abcn.ws/aQLv8u
GRANITE STATE OF MIND. This Saturday January 22, ABC News and WMUR-TV in New Hampshire are teaming up for a first ever 2012 presidential “straw poll” sanctioned by the New Hampshire Republican State Committee. As ABC News Political Director Amy Walter notes, “With just over a year until New Hampshire's crucial first in the nation presidential primary, potential Republican candidates have already started flocking to the Granite State. They're showing up in Manchester and Keene, Portsmouth and Concord. They're donating to local candidates, speaking to civic groups and getting to know the lay of the political landscape. So, what do some of the most experienced and influential Republicans in the state think about them?”
Find out on Saturday when 493 members of the New Hampshire Republican party gather at the Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire for their annual meeting. While there, each one of these party members will be able to anonymously choose the candidate they'd like to see as the party's nominee for 2012. Results are expected Saturday afternoon. Follow Walter (@amyewalter) and ABCNews.com as well as WMUR online political editor James Pindell at WMURPoliticalScoop.com for the latest news and analysis. http://abcn.ws/gC66IF
NOTE: One more vote to keep your eye on this weekend — the New Hampshire GOP party chair race is going to be an early test of Tea Party strength in a state where they weren't very successful in 2010. Julia Bergeron, chair of Chesire County Republicans, has the backing of outgoing state chairman John Sununu. But, she's getting a serious challenge from Jack Kimball, a tea party leader and former gubernatorial candidate. A recent canvass of GOP party members by the New Hampshire Journal showed the two in a dead heat.
JFK’S SISTER REFLECTS ON HIS INAUGURATION. “Jean Kennedy Smith, President John F. Kennedy's last remaining sibling, still has strong memories of the cold January day of her brother's inauguration 50 years ago,” ABC News’ Melinda Arons and Lauren Effron report. “‘We had a big party at our house the night before,’ she told ABC News' Christiane Amanpour. ‘It was going to snow. It was in our garden in Georgetown. That was, sort of, the send-off and everybody was very up and excited.’ Smith sat down with "Nightline" to mark the 50th anniversary of her brother's inauguration, and in a rare, exclusive interview she discussed how her brother's words still are relevant today. … ‘[What] we all remember is that very famous line about, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,’ Smith said. ‘And I think that sort of sums up his philosophy. That was a very strong sentiment that he believed deeply in.’” Watch the full interview on "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET and read more excerpts here: http://abcn.ws/hnoMb9
JFK TRIBUTES. House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will attend an official tribute marking the anniversary of Kennedy’s inauguration in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol as 12:00 noon today. Vice President Joe Biden will also deliver remarks. Tonight, President Obama will deliver remarks at a 50th anniversary event at the Kennedy Center.
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC News’ Karen Travers and Jonathan Karl interview Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, the vice chairman of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. Cuellar will talk about yesterday’s health care vote and his efforts to find common ground with House Republicans. Also on the show today, Anthony Coley from the Brunswick Group. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
CITIZENS UNITED: ONE YEAR LATER. Marking the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the group, Public Campaign, will host a forum with “leading advocates on opposite sides of the campaign finance spectrum set to discuss what Citizens United meant for the 2010 mid-term elections and its implications for elections to come.”
Moderated by ABC’s own Amy Walter, panelists include Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Michael Boos, Vice President and General Counsel, Citizens United; Cleta Mitchell, Partner, Foley & Lardner LLP; and Spencer Overton, Professor of Law, The George Washington University School of Law. The panel takes place today from 1 p.m to 2 p.m. ET at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, Congressional Meeting Room North (Room 268). http://bit.ly/hbS2WX
UP NEXT FOR HEALTH CARE. “After two days of lively debate, the House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to repeal the health care law, even as Democrats and Obama administration officials used the renewed debate to highlight its benefits,” ABC News’ Huma Khan reports. “[Today], the House will hold another vote calling on four committees to begin work on crafting a replacement bill that will yank some of the most contentious parts of the bill, such as the changes to Medicare Advantage and the requirement that all Americans must purchase health insurance by 2014. In nearly two days of debate, Republicans argued against the idea that the bill would create jobs and cut costs, while Democrats touted the benefits of the new law and the negative impact on Americans were it to be repealed.” http://abcn.ws/ho4bzV
NOTED: So much for civility. As ABC’s Jon Karl notes, the House passed the repeal of the health care law, but not without reference to Holocaust. http://abcn.ws/hfDSmw
REID BLAME GAME. House Republicans seized power in November by portraying then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the symbol of all that was wrong with the country and the political system. Now they’re going after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.),” Politico’s John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman report. “Only two weeks into the new Congress, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has repeatedly — and very personally — challenged Reid to hold an up-or-down vote on GOP policy proposals, publicly daring the Nevada Democrat to hold a Senate vote on repealing the health care law.
Reid has dismissed such comments from Cantor as nothing more than a ‘political stunt,’ and he has openly mocked House Republicans for sleeping in their offices and reading the Constitution on the House floor.” http://politi.co/ghDC6Z
PALIN IN IOWA. “Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has tasked her aides with quietly gauging her level of support for a potential presidential campaign by making inquiries to a select pool of likely allies and grassroots activists in Iowa,” RealClearPolitics’ Scott Conroy writes. “Key Republican officials and operatives in the nation's first voting state had begun to assume that Palin would not run for president in 2012, since most of them have not heard a word from her or from her small circle of aides, even as other likely candidates have begun jockeying more forcefully behind the scenes. But a Palin adviser confirmed that although the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee's footprint has not been as heavy as that of other possible candidates, her political action committee has indeed been taking discreet steps in Iowa that would help her build a credible campaign here if she decided to launch one. ‘The idea that we're not in Iowa is inaccurate,’ SarahPAC adviser Andy Davis told RealClearPolitics.” http://bit.ly/exjsnu
CONSERVATIVES PUSH PENCE. Within the last week, at least two draft Mike Pence groups have sprung up, including an effort spearheaded by former Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kan., and former Reagan administration official Ralph Benko. "Seize this moment, Mike," Ryun, along with conservative leaders L. Brent Bozell, Dick Armey and Morton Blackwell, wrote in a letter they sent to Pence today. "Now is the time for you, as one of this generation's leaders, to take your rightful place in the pantheon of American leadership, to cast aside personal considerations, and defend this God-blessed nation that has given us, and the world, so much." The letter sought to bolster an effort launched earlier this week by a new independent expenditure group, the America's President Committee, which is gathering signatures to encourage Pence to enter the Republican presidential primary. And in South Carolina, a group of 11 state legislators held a press conference outside the state capitol in Columbia, S.C., on Wednesday encouraging Pence to seek the Republican nomination. http://abcn.ws/gf2JDC
SOTU COUNTDOWN: 6 DAYS. “Now that Dick Cheney has opened the door to tighter gun restrictions, will President Barack Obama do the same?” NBC News National Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff reports. “That politically dicey question is playing out behind the scenes in the run-up to next week’s State of the Union. In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and federal Judge John Roll, gun control groups and some Democratic members of Congress are pushing to get the president to directly address the issue of gun violence in his speech to Congress next Tuesday, according to gun control advocates and congressional aides, who asked for anonymity.” http://on.msnbc.com/fRJM1Z
SOTU FACT OF THE DAY: The State of the Union was formally known as the “Annual Message” from 1790 to 1934. It began to be informally called the State of the Union address from 1942 to 1946. Since 1947 it has generally been known as the State of the Union address. (h/t ABC’s Eliza Larson and Office of the House Clerk).
@HotlineReid: CT Mirror report: Rep. Chris Murphy will jump into CT SEN race today. Bysiewicz already in on Dem side.
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