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Poll: Perry has lead over Romney in GOP field

| Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011

WASHINGTON — Texas Gov. Rick Perry leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination, a USA Today/Gallup Poll finds, in what is becoming a battle between the candidate who excites more Republicans and the one who shows stronger appeal among GOP-leaning independents.

The survey, taken Thursday through Sunday, charts a GOP field that seems headed toward a showdown between Perry, with 31 percent backing, and Romney, at 24 percent.

The only other candidate scoring in double digits is Texas Rep. Ron Paul, at 13 percent. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who seized GOP interest when she entered the race, has seen her support plummet to 5 percent. That puts her in a tie with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and businessman Herman Cain.

Veteran Republican strategist Ed Rollins, who recently resigned as Bachmann's campaign manager, says the results could signal "a drawn-out process" and extended primary fight between Perry and Romney, both of whom are likely to have ample money and other campaign resources.

But for Bachmann, Rollins says, "the only way she can get back in this race is to somehow win Iowa," which holds the opening caucuses early next year.

Support for the two leading contenders is distinctly different:

• Perry is stronger among Republicans and independents who lean Republican, the voters who settle nominations. In a head-to-head race, 49 percent say they would vote for Perry, 39 percent for Romney.

• Romney does better among the swing voters who hold the key to most general elections. Among all registered voters, Romney slightly bests President Obama 49 to 47 percent, while Perry lags behind the president 45 to 50 percent.

Perry is also a more polarizing figure.

In the poll, 44 percent say they definitely would not vote for Perry; 35 percent say that of Romney. Looked at another way, 62 percent say would either definitely vote for Romney or consider doing so; 53 percent say that of Perry.

Perry has increased his standing a bit, compared with results from Gallup's daily poll in late August, but Romney has narrowed the gap between them. Then, Perry led Romney, 29 to 17 percent. His 12-point margin is down to seven points.

Bachmann was at 10 percent in that late-August survey and at 13 percent in early August, before Perry entered the race.

The Republican field is slated to meet Thursday for its third debate in three weeks, this time in Orlando. Also participating will be former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, at 2 percent in the poll, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, at 1 percent.

Romney has been making the electability argument against Perry, who dislodged the former Massachusetts governor as the leader in national polls. He argues that Perry's blunt views on Social Security's viability — the Texas governor calls it a "Ponzi scheme" for younger workers — and other issues will make it hard for him to win in November.

That may strike a chord with Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. In the poll, 53 percent say they would prefer the nominee with the best chance of beating Obama; 43 percent say they want the candidate who agrees with them on almost all issues.

The survey of 889 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The error margin for the sample of 439 Republican and Republican-leaning independents is 6 points.

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