Newt Gingrich holds a 9 percentage point lead over nearest GOP rival Mitt Romney among Republicans, according to a poll released Thursday, shortly before the final presidential debate prior to Tuesday’s Florida primary.
But both Romney and third-place candidate Rick Santorum fare better in a potential November match-up with President Barack Obama, the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey
The poll shows that Gingrich is most popular among what NBC called “the heart and soul” of the party – very conservative voters, the South and people allied to the tea party movement.
Gingrich received the support of 37 percent of registered Republicans likely to vote in primaries. Romney comes second with 28 percent, followed by Santorum at 18 percent and Ron Paul at 12 percent.
Gingrich leads Romney, 47-17, among “very conservative” voters; 45-21 in the South and 46-31 among tea partyers in four-way contests that include Santorum and Paul. If those two candidates’ names are removed, Gingrich’s lead over Romney gets even larger.
The polling was conducted before a huge anti-Gingrich campaign started on Thursday with allegations that he was not the Ronald Reagan supporter he has claimed to be.
But the poll showed that Gingrich fares worse against Obama than either Romney or Santorum. According to the poll Romney would lose by 6 points in November, Santorum by 15 and Gingrich by 18.
Gingrich beats Romney, 63 percent to 61, when voters were asked who can deal with the economy positively. “If that’s the ace card for Romney, it hasn’t materialized at the moment,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted the survey along with Republican pollster Bill McInturff.
The poll showed that the former House speaker is particularly weak among women, independents and voters for whom personal standards are important. Women would vote for Obama over Gingrich by more than a 3-1 margin, the poll showed.
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