A recent NewsMax/InsiderAdvantage scientific national survey of likely voters in Republican presidential caucuses and primaries to be held next year provides a clear view of one fact: Any major candidate could win the GOP nomination, if -- and it's a big if -- they follow the right strategy.
Let's look at the potential candidates for 2012 and use the poll to tell us what they need to do to make it to the GOP convention in Tampa.
The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent, was conducted just before President Barack Obama decided, after years of speculation, to release his long-form birth certificate. Whether that has affected the effort of entrepreneur Donald Trump's candidacy, we can't really say.
Trump pushed the issue, and Obama seemingly called Trump's bluff. But Trump may well turn this into an advantage by proving that he is the one candidate who can force Obama to respond to issues that he's been able sidestep before.
In the poll, Trump was statistically tied with former governors Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Each received 14 percent.
For Trump to actually capture the nomination, he must prove that he has a realistic view of how to run a government, not just a business. Early on, statements such as Trump's suggestion that we should simply take Libya's oil sounded like juicy raw meat for the masses.
But down the road he will debate, yes, politicians, who will suggest that such an action can't be just taken on a whim by a president. My guess is that Trump will be smart enough to reign in the over-the-top comments, given that he has already pushed the envelope and succeeded in becoming a front-runner early on. Trump surely sees this as something like one of his massive construction projects. First give the people some sizzle, and then start pouring a solid foundation.
Mike Huckabee is viewed by voters as the most likeable of all of the candidates. He became the early conservative choice in 2008, and his gentle nature and sense of humor have endeared him to many Republicans. But Huckabee will likely have to be darn near drafted by a frustrated GOP electorate to enter this race. For now, he seems to relish his life as a Fox News talk-show host. He lacks any indication of having the "fire in the belly" necessary to win a Republican nomination.
As for Mitt Romney, there is not only sufficient desire to be president, but also an existing operation that is so efficient that it reminds me of some presidential re-election efforts that I have witnessed.
He's heard this from his close friends and supporters, so the statement that he appears too slick and well-polished should come as no surprise to Romney. But trying to turn Mitt Romney into a "country Joe" would be disingenuous. He should run as a John F. Kennedy-type candidate -- but no monograms on shirts, no cufflinks and no handkerchiefs.
As for Romney's health care flop in Massachusetts, it seems unlikely that GOP voters will hold that against him. Romney's program did differ from "ObamaCare," and while it backfired, it will be the former governor's views on the economy and foreign policy that Republican voters will be examining.
Sarah Palin also appears to be a candidate who has strong support, at 11 percent in our survey. But as for now, she too seems to lack the fire within to run for president. That may change.
The final candidate in the race to have genuine support at this stage is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with 8 percent in our poll. If Gingrich could stick to the message of reminding people what he accomplished as speaker, he could race to the top of the pack. Nearly half of the survey's respondents don't even know he was speaker -- they were too young to focus on him in the 1990s.
It is Newt's job to introduce "Speaker Gingrich" to those voters. As for Gingrich's so-called "baggage," we polled separately that issue, giving much detail to the question. A large majority of respondents said they were not interested in Gingrich's past marriages or mistakes.