Tim Pawlenty easy favorite in National Association of Evangelicals poll

Tim and Mary Pawlenty on the Christian Broadcasting Network earlier this year.

Tim and Mary Pawlenty on the Christian Broadcasting Network earlier this year.

All his tack-to-the-hard right rhetoric with right wing Christian TV and radio shows is paying off. In the battle for God - or a conservative evangelical God anyway -- Tim Pawlenty appears to have the upper hand. Leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals say he's far and away their favorite candidate for president.

Mitt Romney, a Mormon who leads the GOP field in national polls, was the only other candidate NAE members considered in an open-ended survey recently published by the organization.

But the race isn't even close, with Pawlenty enjoying a 45-14 percentage point lead.

All this matters because conservative evangelicals played a pivotal role in electing Republican George W. Bush president twice - and sat out the 2008 presidential race, which John McCain lost. Pawlenty needs these folks in his corner.

Leith Anderson, NAE's president and Pawlenty's pastor, acknowledged in NAE's newsletter that Pawlenty's lead looks insurmountable, but cautions the GOP nomination is more than a year away and allegiances could shift.

To what, the newly devout but imploding serial philanderer Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum, who walks the talk but can't stumble out of the polling basement? Heck, even Michele Bachmann didn't register with the leaders of this, her natural constituency.

But the way things appear to be going now, Pawlenty's favored evangelical status isn't helping his campaign's inability to live within its own means, and he's struggling to keep up with Romney's big fat bank account. So the more interesting question is whether evangelicals will go to bat for Romney if he's the Last Republican Standing, or if they'll sit out the election because of Romney's faith.