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Poll: Romney Overtakes Paul in Iowa; Santorum Third Poll: Romney Overtakes Paul in Iowa; Santorum Third

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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field

CAMPAIGN 2012

Poll: Romney Overtakes Paul in Iowa; Santorum Third

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Mitt Romney in Davenport, Iowa, on Tuesday.(Ralf-Finn Hestoft)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has taken a slight lead in next week's Iowa Republican presidential caucuses, while former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has surged into third place, according to a new CNN/Time/ORC poll that shows the state's conservative voters have not consolidated behind any one candidate.

Romney leads Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, among likely GOP caucus-goers, 25 percent to 22 percent, within the poll's margin of error. Santorum, who has campaigned on his socially conservative credentials, is now in third place, with 16 percent, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has seen his poll numbers collapse over the past month. Gingrich is fourth, at 14 percent.

 

In the previous poll, conducted in late November and early December, Gingrich led Romney, 33 percent to 20 percent. Paul was the only other candidate in double digits, at 17 percent. Santorum was at just 5 percent three weeks ago.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., tally 11 percent and 9 percent, respectively. But both are staking their campaign on the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, and a fifth- or sixth-place finish is likely to imperil each of their candidacies.

Romney's share of the vote in the poll -- 25 percent -- is equal to his performance in the Hawkeye State in 2008, when he finished second to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. But unlike Huckabee's blowout performance four years ago, no other GOP candidate has been able to consolidate conservative-leaning caucus-goers to carry the state, according to the poll.

 

Likely caucus-goers who support the tea party split their support among the top six candidates: 19 percent each for Romney, Paul, and Santorum, 17 percent for Gingrich, 12 percent for Bachmann, and 11 percent for Perry. Among those caucus-goers who describe themselves as born-again Christians, the candidates are again bunched close together with no clear front-runner: Santorum is at 22 percent, followed closely by Paul (18 percent), Romney (16 percent), Gingrich (14 percent), Perry (13 percent), and Bachmann (12 percent). This benefits Romney, who is depending on evangelical voters splitting among multiple candidates in the state for him to win.

Entrance polls from 2008 show Huckabee routed Romney among born-again or evangelical Christian caucus-goers, 46 percent to 19 percent.

While just 18 percent of likely caucus-goers say Romney is the candidate they are most likely to agree with on the issues that matter most, a wide plurality believe he is the most electable candidate against President Obama. Forty-one percent believe he has the best chance of beating Obama in the general election, including 38 percent of tea party supporters and 31 percent of evangelicals.

One other telling note from the poll: A whopping 60 percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers believe the federal budget deficit is the most important economic issue facing the country -- three times more than the 20 percent of voters who cited unemployment as the biggest issue. Cutting federal spending has been a hallmark of Paul's campaign in the state.

 

A separate CNN/Time/ORC poll of likely voters in the Jan. 10 New Hampshire Republican primary shows Romney with a big lead, garnering 44 percent of the vote, compared to 17 percent for Paul and 16 percent for Gingrich. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who is campaigning in the Granite State this week while his competitors focus on Iowa, is at 9 percent.

In both states, Republicans are significantly more focused on the federal budget deficit than any of the other economic issues facing the country today. In both states, voters rated the deficit as the most important issue, ahead of unemployment, taxes, gas prices, the stock market, and housing.

Both CNN/Time/ORC polls were conducted Dec. 21-27 -- excepting Christmas Day -- by ORC International. The polls include interviews with 452 likely Iowa caucus-goers and 543 likely New Hampshire primary voters. The margins of error are +/- 4.6 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively.

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