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Polls: Romney Maintains Leads in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida

Monday, 09 Jan 2012 11:40 AM

Mitt Romney has a 12-point lead over closest rival Newt Gingrich in Florida three weeks before the state's Republican presidential primary, but more than half of likely voters still might change their minds, according to a poll released on Monday.

The poll came as all signs point to a Romney victory in New Hampshire, where the candidate holds about a 15-point lead over his closest rival, Rep. Ron Paul.

And in South Carolina, where conservatives Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry are looking to tap into a strongly conservative, evangelical base, the former Massachusetts governor is 10 points ahead of his closest rival, Santorum. Romney has 31 percent of likely voters, compared with  Santorum's 20 percent, according to RealClearPolitics' average of leading polls.

There are signs, though, that Romney's once-formidable lead appears to be slipping a bit in New Hampshire. In the latest release of the 7 News/Suffolk University tracking poll of likely voters, 33 percent said they planned to vote for or leaned toward Romney. In the previous poll, released Wednesday, Romney was the choice of 43 percent, and his support has been decreasing steadily since then.

In South Carolina, a splintered conservative base is dividing its support among several of Romney's rivals going into the Jan. 21 contest. The former venture capitalist's business savvy is resonating so far with voters in a state with almost 10 percent unemployment, according to recent public polls, internal campaign polling, and Associated Press interviews with South Carolina GOP operatives.

A victory Tuesday in New Hampshire would mean that Romney heads into the first Southern contest with momentum from back-to-back successes in the Midwest and Northeast. But the race is certain to get nasty, quickly, in a state known for brass-knuckled politics.

"Everyone is going to throw everything they've got at him," said Romney's senior South Carolina adviser, Warren Tompkins. "Because South Carolina is Armageddon for the rest of them."

South Carolina may offer the last chance for a single conservative challenger to Romney to emerge. Also, independent groups, or super political action committees, that are aligned with his rivals and can raise unlimited money probably will be active. The goal is to derail Romney before the make-or-break Florida primary Jan. 31.

The Quinnipiac University poll of Floridians released Monday showed Romney with 36 percent, former House Speaker Gingrich with 24 percent, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 16 percent. Paul had 10 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry had 5 percent, and former U.S. Ambassador to China John Huntsman had 2 percent.

But 54 percent of respondents said they might change their minds before Florida convenes its Republican presidential primary election on Jan. 31. Results from New Hampshire, which votes on Tuesday, and South Carolina, which votes on Jan. 21, could shake thing up in Florida, the Quinnipiac pollsters cautioned.

"With more than half of voters saying they might change their minds and more than 50 percent of them backing candidates perceived as more conservative, Romney could be vulnerable if those voters settle on one candidate," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Romney is the best-liked candidate among Florida likely Republican voters, with a 73-14 percent favorability rating.

Among Florida respondents who described themselves as tea party members, Romney and Gingrich tied with 32 percent each, followed by Santorum with 19 percent, Paul with 7 percent and Perry with 4 percent.

The race is closer among white evangelical Christians. Romney gets 28 percent to Gingrich's 26 percent, with 20 percent for Santorum, the poll showed.

© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

 
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Monday, 09 Jan 2012 11:40 AM
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