The moment Texas Gov. Rick Perry enters the race for the GOP nomination, he will immediately rise to the top tier of Republican prospects, a new CNN/ORC International Poll predicts.
The CNN poll shows Perry trailing frontrunner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by just 2 points, 17 percent to 15 percent. The poll’s margin of error for the GOP primary is plus or minus 4.5 percent, meaning there is no statistical difference between Romney and Perry.
All that assumes, of course, that Perry tosses his hat in the ring. He’s expected to clarify his intentions during a major speech Saturday at the third annual RedState Gathering in South Carolina, which just happens to fall on the same day as the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames, Iowa.
Trailing Romney and Perry are former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who each tallied 12 percent in the survey.
Seven percent opted for Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who led former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (5 percent), former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and radio talk show host Herman Cain (4 percent), and former governor and U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (4 percent).
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania each garnered 2 percent. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Rep. Thad McCotter of Michigan each won less than half of 1 percent of the vote.
When Giuliani and Palin, who have not announced, are removed from the mix, Romney wins 23 percent of the GOP vote and opens up a statistically significant margin over Perry, who remains in second with 18 percent. In that scenario, Paul tallies 14 percent, Bachmann 9 percent, and Gingrich attracts the support of 8 percent.
The poll also evaluates which GOP candidate would present the strongest challenge to President Barack Obama in hypothetical 2012 showdowns.
Leading the GOP pack, interestingly, is Giuliani with a 51 percent to 45 percent advantage over Obama among registered voters.
Romney would trail Obama by just 1 point, 49 to 48 percent -- a statistically insignificant margin.
Obama leads Bachmann 51 percent to 45 percent in a hypothetical match-up, and beats Perry 51 percent to 46 percent.
The CNN poll questioned 1,008 U.S. adults, 930 of whom were registered voters. Its overall margin of error is 3 percentage points. The GOP primary findings are based on responses from 449 Republicans, and have a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
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