Without running, Palin stays near top of GOP field

There's a near consensus among Washington insiders that Sarah Palin will not run for president.  But a new poll suggests the former Alaska governor would become an instant force in the race if she did choose to run.

In the survey, by the Washington Post and ABC News, Palin comes in a solid second in the Republican field, behind frontrunner Mitt Romney but ahead of the surging Michele Bachmann.  Palin is also well ahead of another possible GOP candidate, Texas Governor Rick Perry.

The numbers are: Romney 26 percent; Palin 18 percent; Bachmann 12 percent; Ron Paul nine percent; Perry eight percent; Herman Cain six percent; Newt Gingrich five percent; Jon Huntsman three percent; and Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum at two percent each.  In a question without Palin and Perry, the other candidates are in mostly the same order.

Palin is also at or near the top of the field in questions about desirable attributes in a president.  When GOP voters were asked which candidate “most understands the problems of people like you,” Palin tops the list with 23 percent, followed by Romney at 18 percent and Bachmann at 11 percent.  When voters were asked which candidate is the strongest leader, Palin was second only to Romney, with 16 percent to his 27 percent.  When asked which candidate “is closest to you on the issues,” Palin is in a virtual tie with Romney, with 20 percent to his 21 percent.

In only one category, experience, does Palin slip into third place, behind Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.  Palin famously resigned as Alaska governor in mid-term.

Palin also slips a bit when Republicans are asked which GOP candidate would have the best chance of defeating Barack Obama in November 2012.  Thirty-two percent of those surveyed say Romney has the best chance, while just 14 percent say Palin.  But Palin's number is still more than twice that of any other GOP candidate in the field, including Perry.

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