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NBC/WSJ poll: Tea Party supporters like Huck

They’re expected to make up about half all of Republican presidential primary voters, and they’re surveying their options.

So who’s winning the Tea Party primary so far?

According to a new NBC/WSJ poll, 53 percent of respondents who said they expect to vote in the GOP presidential primary identified themselves as Tea Party supporters. Their favorite candidate right now: the former Arkansas governor who shot to prominence after winning over conservatives in Iowa in 2008.

Among Tea Party backers, 27 percent said Gov. Mike Huckabee would be their first choice among Republican candidates, with an additional 15 percent calling Huckabee their second choice.  

Huckabee, who has sent mixed signals about how interested he may be in a White House run that would cut off a lucrative TV contract, had the support of about a quarter of GOP primary voters overall in the poll.

Presumed presidential candidate Mitt Romney fares less well among Tea Party types, with 14 percent calling the former Massachusetts governor their top choice for the nomination. (It’s worth noting that the same share of Tea Party supporters named former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin – who enjoys broad support among conservatives but not always the perception of strong viability as a candidate – as their top choice.) Romney and Palin were the second choice of 17 percent and 19 percent of Tea Party fans, respectively.

Romney was the top choice among GOP primary voters who say they are NOT Tea Party supporters, with 32 percent of those voters saying he’s their preferred nominee.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was the top choice of 19 percent of Tea Party backers, with another 8 percent calling him their second choice.

Gingrich, who’s the preferred nominee for about 13 percent of GOP primary voters overall according to the NBC/WSJ poll, unveiled a new website on Thursday that indicates he's planning to explore a presidential run.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who recently delivered the keynote speech at a meeting of the Tea Party Patriots and released a web video praising the movement, was the first or second choice of a combined 15 percent of Tea Party supporters.  His overall support among all GOP primary voters was at just 3 percent in the survey.