The religious right is Tim Pawlenty's to lose.
In a recent poll of leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—which includes representatives from a number of evangelical organizations around the country—45 percent named Pawlenty as their preferred Republican candidate. Coming in a distant second with 14 percent: Mitt Romney.
In the NAE press release announcing the poll, Leith Anderson, the group's president, points out that Pawlenty's strong showing "might be expected since he is so often identified as an evangelical." It doesn't hurt that Anderson is Pawlenty's pastor at Wooddale Church—a shared history that the release fails to mention.
Pawlenty's religious fervor distinguishes him from Romney, the current frontrunner. It's central to his presidential narrative. But that's not likely to help him much with the broader Republican electorate:
Among Republicans, 59 percent hold a favorable view of [Romney], according to a Bloomberg National Poll, while only 16 percent view him negatively. He’s also more popular than unpopular with independent voters by a 10 percentage point margin. . . . [Pawlenty] is viewed favorably by 29 percent and unfavorably by 11 percent.
And then there's this:
While the poll shows more than half of Republicans are dissatisfied with the current choices in the field, an overwhelming 85 percent want candidates seeking their support to focus almost entirely on economic issues, not social ones.
Of course, social issues define the evangelical right. Meaning that Pawlenty would be well advised to aggressively broaden his base, and court some of that 85 percent that's begging to hear more about jobs and smart investments and less about abortion and traditional marriage. Because if polls like Bloomberg's bear out, most Republicans just don't care what the NAE thinks.