WASHINGTON (CNN) - A new national poll of Republicans suggests that there's no front runner at this extremely early moment in the next race for the White House.
Three possible candidates are all bunched at the top of a CNN/Opinion Research
Corporation survey released Tuesday.
The survey suggests that 22 percent of Republicans would most likely support former Arkansas governor and former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for their party's presidential nomination in 2012. Twenty-one percent say they would most likely back Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, with an equal number supporting former Massachusetts governor and former White House hopeful Mitt Romney.
Taking into account the poll's 4.5 percent sampling error, Huckabee, Palin and Romney seem to be locked in a hypothetical dead heat.
The poll indicates that 13 percent of Republicans would back former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2012, with 6 percent supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Ten percent of those questioned say they would most likely back someone else.
"The Republicans have three very well known candidates. No one is a clear favorite among the three. The race appears to be wide open at this very early date," says CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.
"Republicans typically nominate someone familiar who's run for president before, such as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain. But since the party appears to be in trouble right, Republicans might want to do what Democrats typically do, and look for a fresh face," adds Schneider.
The poll's release comes on the same day that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced that he won't run next year for a third term. Pawlenty's decision to avoid a potentially difficult re-election bid in 2010 is seen by some political analysts as the first step in a possible presidential run in 2012.
The poll's release also comes as Romney's recent schedule gives the impresison of a man intent on running for the White House again. On Monday, Romney criticized the Obama administration over national security at a speech sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Friday he was the keynote speaker at a major Republican Party dinner in Virginia. He's campaigned recently for GOP gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, and he's a frequent guest on cable news programs and Sunday talk shows.
Asked Sunday about a bid in 2012, Romney told Fox News that "I'm not going to close that door" - although, he added, "I'm not going to walk through it either."
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted May 14-17, with 1,010 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error for Republican presidential nomination question is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.