06/23/2011 12:41 pm ET | Updated Aug 23, 2011

Tim Pawlenty Tops Survey Of Evangelical Leaders

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is evangelicals' choice to win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, according to a new poll conducted by an organization led by his pastor.

The National Association of Evangelicals surveyed a wide swath of evangelical leaders, finding that forty-five percent of them planned to support Pawlenty in the 2012 election over other Republican candidates. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came in second at 14 percent, while 22 percent of those polled said they were undecided.

The NAE is led by Pawlenty’s pastor, the Rev. Leith Anderson, who is the senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn.

The poll was part of a monthly survey of the organization's board of directors, which includes CEOs of denominations and representatives of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.

“Tim and [his wife] Mary are devoted followers of Jesus, bright, articulate, a proven record and have none of the negatives of the other candidates,” said George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, in a statement.

Anderson, who has attempted to stay politically neutral during the campaign, cushioned the poll results by saying that 2012 campaign was in its early stages.

"Pawlenty leads the list of Republican candidates for our evangelical leaders which might be expected since he is so often identified as an evangelical. Although, like the rest of the nation, there are still many undecided," he said. "With more than a year before the national nominating conventions, a lot can change."

The survey asked: “Assuming Barack Obama is the Democratic candidate, if you were to choose a preferred Republican presidential candidate for 2012, who would you name?” A similar question was posed to the group in Oct. 2007, but since there wasn't an incumbent running for reelection, answers were open to both Republicans and Democrats. In that poll, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee topped the list.

Romney currently leads most national polls, but he did not fare well among evangelicals in the survey. None of the respondents mentioned his Mormon religion as the reason they would not vote for him, but other polls have shown that evangelicals are leery of a Mormon president.

Yet at least one evangelical leader the NAE surveyed had praise for Romney.

“[Romney] has the executive experience, business background, moral principles, and electability to become the next President of the United States," said Ron Boehme, Director of Youth With A Mission U.S. Renewal and a member of the NAE board.

Evangelicals are an important voting bloc, comprising 23 percent of the electorate in the 2008 presidential election, according to the Pew Research Center. Of their votes, 73 percent went to Republican presidential candidate John McCain.