Is there any realistic scenario where Palin and Huckabee sit this election out? Mitt vs. Newt would, I imagine, be an agonizing dilemma for lots of social conservatives; with so many of their votes up for grabs, either Huck or Sarahcuda would feel compelled to dive in and seize the momentum.

If neither Huckabee nor Palin runs you have a tie at the top between Gingrich and Romney at 24%, with Ron Paul in 3rd place at 12%. Gingrich gains ground because 35% of Palin’s voters would go to him while only 19% of them would move to the Romney camp if she didn’t run. More of Huckabee’s voters would go to Gingrich than Romney also but it’s by a much closer margin, just 26-23…

Now let’s consider the possibility that Huckabee doesn’t run, but Palin still does. Romney takes the slightest of leads in that instance with 20% to 19% for Palin, 18% for Gingrich, and 12% for Paul who moves up into double digits in that scenario. Those numbers aren’t that much different than when Huckabee is in the mix because his voters distribute their support pretty evenly if he’s out- 21% to Palin, 20% to Gingrich, 19% to Romney, and a surprisingly high 15% to Paul.

Finally we looked at what would happen if Palin didn’t run, but Huckabee still did. In that instance Huckabee and Gingrich lead the way at 22% and 20% respectively followed by Romney at 18% and no one else in double digits. There are very few Palin supporters who like Romney, so that’s why Gingrich would vault him with her out of the picture- 32% of Palin voters list Huckabee as their second choice to 25% for Gingrich and only 10% for Romney.

No surprise. Romney’s always needed lots of candidates in the race who appeal to the base (or elements of the base) so that grassroots votes end up being split while he locks up centrists. Any one-on-one match-up — against Huck, against Pawlenty, against Gingrich, and maybe even against Palin — is bad news for him. Undeniably it’s bad news if it’s any of those first three, since it would turn the primary into a referendum on RomneyCare and whether Republicans can, in good conscience, nominate the man responsible for it. And … that would be a bad bet for Mitt:

A Romney/Palin race would be more complicated because each side would be straining to turn it into a referendum on the other. For Palinistas the key would be RomneyCare, of course, and for Mittheads it would be Palin’s qualification and electability. He’s in roughly the same position in the primary, in other words, as Obama is in the general — there are many reasons to dislike him so he desperately needs an opponent whom people might dislike more. That’s why even T-Paw, with his single-digit polling, is potentially a mortal threat to him if they end up going head-to-head in Iowa or South Carolina.

But as I say, there’s no chance that Palin and Huckabee both choose not to run. In fact, sources close to Huck claim that he’s now 50/50 on jumping in. And no wonder, as encouraging polls continue to pile up.