(Photo: Reuters / Joel Page)
A poll of evangelical leaders reveals that Tim Pawlenty leads the list of preferred Republican presidential candidates for the 2012 race.
Forty-five percent named the former Minnesota governor as their top choice for 2012 GOP nomination in a June poll by the National Association of Evangelicals.
George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, said of the top pick and his wife, "Tim and Mary are devoted followers of Jesus, bright, articulate, a proven record and have none of the negatives of the other candidates."
NAE President Leith Anderson said, like Wood, many evangelicals are drawn to Pawlenty's faith testimony.
"Pawlenty leads the list of Republican candidates for our evangelical leaders which might be expected since he is so often identified as an evangelical," Anderson said in a statement.
Pawlenty affirmed his Christian faith in his book Courage to Stand: An American Story.
In a January interview about the book, Pawlenty told Christianity Today that his Christian beliefs are the reason that he got involved in politics. He also established himself as a politician who proudly stands for both fiscal and social conservative issues.
"Most conservatives, including me, have strong views on a variety of issues. I've been pro-life my whole life. I've been in favor of traditional marriage. It's not just something you can toss to the side or throw out the window," he told the magazine.
He met with the NAE Board of Directors during the last presidential election cycle. Pawlenty is also a member of Anderson's Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, according to USA Today.
Still, Anderson says it is early in the election cycle.
"Like the rest of the nation, there are still many [evangelicals who are] undecided," he noted.
Twenty-two percent of surveyed leaders reported that they are undecided. "With more than a year before the national nominating conventions, a lot can change," said Anderson.
While Pawlenty is favored among evangelicals, he is struggling to be recognized by mainstream Republicans.
His recognition among the other candidates just falls below the average, according to Gallup. So too does his positive intensity score.
Notably, evangelicals ranked rival Mitt Romney as a distant second place contender.
Romney received 14 percent of leaders' vote despite being a Mormon.
Mark DeMoss, founder of evangelical public relations firm The DeMoss Group, told The Christian Post in May that he believes evangelicals are changing their minds about supporting a Mormon candidate.
A self-avowed evangelical, he is a two-time supporter of Romney who is volunteering for the former Massachusetts governor's campaign.
"I think more people, more evangelicals will get past [Romney's faith] in this election cycle than in the last election cycle," DeMoss told CP.
A Monday Gallup poll shows that he may be right. Among Protestant Christians, 74 percent respondents also said they would vote for a Mormon.
Of all of the respondents, 76 percent said they would vote for a Mormon candidate if their party nominated him or her.
Other candidates, whose names and percentages the NAE would not release, received less than 10 percent of the vote in the evangelical leaders survey.