This CNN poll is the first post-mid term indication of how Republican voters feel about 2012 candidates. Top of the heap? Mike Huckabee at 21 percent, trailed closely by Mitt Romney at 20. Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich are each in the mid-teens. Ron Paul leads the rest.

Hukabee must be smiling knowing that he is still polling ahead of his arch-rival, Mitt Romney. Huckabee is deeply popular with the Republican voting base, and independents tend to like him. But Republican kingmakers and donors loathe him in the extreme. On defense issues he is far from Dick Cheney but far from Ron Paul too. On economic issues he is as conflicted as the base he represents – a deregulator one day, an economic nationalist on another. He was drawing the kind of anti-Establishment enthusiasm that motivates the Tea Party back in 2008, much to the consternation of movement conservatives and the party elite. But does he want to leave his comfortable gig on Fox? It may be hard to resist the call of the campaign trail when he sees numbers like this.

In a hypothetical 2012 matchup, Huckabee leads Obama 52 – 44 percent, while Romney has a 50-45 point advantage, which is within the poll’s sampling error. Obama hold a 49-47 percent margin over Gingrich.

But it is difficult to consider Huckabee the front-runner. Romney will raise the most money. And the media’s love/hate-affair with Sarah Palin will guarantee plenty of base-riling coverage for the Governor who quit to hang out with Tea Partiers. And these are just today’s probably candidates. Tim Pawlenty and Mitch Daniels may get the idea of going on a “listening tour” in Iowa. Republicans would be wise to let a few of their more reent stars mature on the vine. Marco Rubio should run away screaming if he is asked to deliver the response to Obama’s next state of the union, lest he meet the fate of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.