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 contender, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Among Republican primary voters, Mr. Romney captured the support of 21% in a broad, nine-candidate field. Mr. Trump was tied for second with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, with 17%. House Speaker Newt Gingrich got 11%, just ahead of former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s 10%. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, considered a strong contender by political handicappers, remains largely unknown, with just 6% support. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota had 5%, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum 3%, and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour with just 1%.

Mr. 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.“

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