State of the 2016 Race
A weekly column for The Hill analyzing the current state of the 2016 presidential race.

The key to winning the 2016 GOP presidential nomination is winning the "Fox primary":

1. Have you noticed something a bit odd and seemingly inexplicable: How and why does long-since, retired and out-of-office former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) appear at or near the top of most national GOP polls — seven years after the last time he ran for office?

2. And why does former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) not poll particularly well — even with the high name ID he has — especially compared to his older brother, President George W. Bush, at a similar time in 1999, one year before the caucuses and primaries?

3. And why does a previously unknown pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonCarson's affordable housing idea drawing undue flak Overnight Energy: Trump EPA looks to change air pollution permit process | GOP senators propose easing Obama water rule | Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules Green group sues EPA over lead dust rules it says are too lax MORE, often poll in double digits?

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4. The answers are not blowing in the wind; no, the answers to the above questions all go to these candidates' coverage on the Fox News Channel.

5. For example, Huckabee has hosted his own live, Saturday-night Lawrence Welk-like variety entertainment show for years on Fox — until he recently gave it up to explore a presidential campaign. Undoubtedly that TV exposure is the reason he is still so well-known and popular inside the GOP primary electorate.

6. Similarly, Jeb Bush is not getting the same automatic pro-Bush favorable coverage on Fox that his brother received back in 1999 and 2000. No, criticism of this Bush is widespread on Fox shows; they don't rip the hide off of Jeb — or any Republican — but they do critique his performance and his policy positions, e.g., on Common Core and amnesty, and it is clear that Fox is not in the Bush camp — at least not yet.

7. As for Carson, he is a total creation of Fox. No one in the political world ever heard of this man until he started appearing regularly on Fox. Then, once he had a forum, it was up to him to capitalize on it — and he has. He has a book out and flacks that on Fox, too. No wonder he is gaining some traction among GOP primary voters and polls above 10 percent in most recent surveys.

8. Charles Krauthammer — very popular on Fox — is always pushing Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) candidacy; no one on Fox is giving Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) a chance — and please note how his poll numbers have deteriorated lately.

9. Look for Ohio Gov. Jon Kasich (R) to join the 2016 race — and when he does, Fox News will accord him very favorable coverage. Why? Because Kasich used to host shows on Fox — and rumor has it that Sir Rupert Murdoch likes him.

10. The Fox primary is crucial to any GOP candidate. A guess: 80 percent of Republicans and conservatives who vote in GOP primaries watch Fox daily. And that estimate might be low!

11. If you think back on it, George W. Bush was elevated in 1999 and 2000 right from the start on Fox. His first cousin, John Prescott Ellis, worked at Fox then and played a crucial role inside the company in boosting his cousin's candidacy — all the way up to the famous election night events that led to the Florida recount.

12. Then in 2008, Fox didn't particularly care for any candidate — and the result was the lackluster Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid McCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death MORE (R-Ariz.) candidacy.

13. In 2011, Fox showed dozens of debates leading into the 2012 race. As time went on, former Gov. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney: 'Putin and Kim Jong Un deserve a censure rather than flattery' A US-UK free trade agreement can hold the Kremlin to account Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity MORE (R-Mass.) received the best coverage of any of the candidates. And, of course, he went on to win the GOP nomination. Romney considered Fox his "home."

14. Now, as the 2016 cycle begins, the competition to win the Fox primary is crucial.

15. If the Fox management remains neutral, then it will be "dog eats dog" on the Fox airwaves. That applies to the crucial interview shows like Megyn Kelly's "The Kelly File" and "Fox & Friends." The competition just to get on these shows will be intense — as will the wild-card nature of live TV interviews.

16. And it will also be in the coverage of the GOP debates that begin in the fall. You can bet GOP operatives will be schmoozing and pressuring Fox producers, staffers and hosts to give their candidate favorable coverage.

17. A word on the GOP race: Jeb Bush's early announcement in December accelerated the whole Republican field. Thus Romney came and went; Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) zoomed up due to one speech in Iowa, and now he may already have peaked too early. Kasich wants to run but knows he, too, could get in and go up and down too quickly.

18. Why all this up-and-down movement?

19. Because Republicans are still looking for their next savior — their next President Reagan.

20. And they may very well find him on Fox.

Former Rep. LeBoutillier (R-N.Y.) is the co-host of "Political Insiders" on Fox News Channel, Sunday nights at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. He will be writing weekly pieces in the Contributors section on the "State of the 2016 Race."