(NewsCore) - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears to be the early front-runner in the largely unformed race for the Republican nomination for president, but real estate magnate Donald Trump may be a surprise 2012 contender, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Wednesday.
Among Republican primary voters, Romney captured the support of 21 percent in a broad, nine-candidate field. Trump was tied for second with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, with 17 percent.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich got 11 percent, just ahead of former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin's 10 percent. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, considered a strong contender by political handicappers, remains largely unknown, with just six percent of support.
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota had five percent, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had three percent, and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour had just one percent of support in the poll.
Trump "may be a punch line but when he talks about the way to solve our problems, he makes a lot of sense to the average guy out there," said Todd Mauney, a conservative Republican in Weatherford, Texas. "I don't know if people can get over him being the butt of every joke but for me, he can be serious when it's time to make real decisions."
In a narrower field of five candidates -- excluding Trump but including Gingrich, Pawlenty and Barbour and Bachmann -- Romney comes out with a comfortable 20-point lead, or 40 percent to Gingrich's second-place 20 percent. Pawlenty had 12 percent and Bachmann, 11 percent.
Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chief and chairman of the Republican Governors Association, has a powerful fundraising network and a vast Rolodex of contacts, but he has yet to catch on with primary voters. He garnered just three percent of support of those polled in the narrower field.