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Poll: Santorum Leads As Some Republicans Pine For 'White Knight' Christie Poll: Santorum Leads As Some Republicans Pine For 'White Knight' Chris...

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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field

CAMPAIGN 2012

Poll: Santorum Leads As Some Republicans Pine For 'White Knight' Christie

Romney's favorability rating slips underwater for the first time this cycle

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.(CHARLES DHARAPAK/AP)

Rick Santorum holds a nine-point lead over Mitt Romney among Republican voters, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released early Wednesday, which also shows that, if none of the candidates currently running wins enough delegates to earn the nomination, Republicans prefer New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The poll also shows President Obama running just ahead of Romney and Santorum in a general election, with Quinnipiac deeming the race against Romney as "too close to call." Romney's personal ratings among all voters have fallen significantly since before the start of the Republican primary season, however.

 

Santorum leads Romney, 35 percent to 26 percent, according to the poll. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is at 14 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is at 11 percent. Fourteen percent of Republican voters are undecided. If the primary came down to only Santorum and Romney, the former Pennsylvania senator would increase his lead to 13 percentage points, 50 percent to 37 percent.

Santorum continues to perform best among more conservative voters. He leads Romney in the four-way matchup among self-identified conservatives, 41 percent to 23 percent, while Romney leads among moderates, 35 percent to 19 percent. Santorum also leads by 28 percent among tea party supporters -- with Gingrich in second -- and by 24 points among white, born-again Christian voters. Romney has only an eight-point lead among non-evangelical voters, and he and Santorum are tied among voters who do not identify as tea party supporters.

Romney does lead Santorum among Republican voters who make more than $100,00 a year, but he trails badly among less affluent voters, including a 17-point gap among those making between $50,000 and $100,000.

 

With the race for the GOP nomination as scrambled as ever, Quinnipiac also asked Republican voters if they think it would be good for the party to have a brokered convention: 37 percent said it would, while 48 percent said it would not. The questions is similar to a USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday that asked Republicans if it would be better for one of the four current candidates to secure the presidential nomination before the convention, or if it be better if none of the four candidates won enough delegates so that the party can pick someone else to be the nominee at the convention. In that poll, nearly two-thirds of Republicans thought it would be better for a candidate to lock up the nomination prior to the party's convention.

Quinnipiac took the hypothetical situation a bit further, giving Republicans the option of four potential candidates who have pulled their hats out of the ring this cycle. In such a scenario, 32 percent of Republicans would want to see Christie nominated, compared to 20 percent for Palin, Alaska's former governor; 20 percent for Bush, Florida's former governor; and 15 percent for Daniels.

Christie would lead with much the same coalition as Romney: He leads Bush by 17 percentage points among moderates and 21 points among white evangelicals. But Christie is stronger than Romney among more conservative voters. He leads Palin by seven points among conservatives, runs neck-and-neck with Bush and Palin among white evangelicals and he even leads Bush by 10 points among tea party supporters.

Christie "remains the knight on the white horse in many Republican minds," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

 

Meanwhile, in the general election, Obama leads Romney by only two points, 46 percent to 44 percent. Against Santorum, Obama leads by just a point more, 47 percent to 44 percent.

Against Romney, Obama leads among independent voters, 46 percent to 41 percent. He doubles that advantage against Santorum, leading 49 percent to 39 percent.

Romney's favorability rating has slipped underwater for the first time this cycle, the poll shows. Thirty-five percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Romney, while 43 percent have an unfavorable opinion of him. Lower-income voters have particularly soured on Romney: Only among those making $100,000 a year or more does Romney have a positive favorable/unfavorable split.

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And, asked if Romney "cares about the needs and problems of people like you," 40 percent of voters say that he does, while 50 percent say he does not. That is down from early October, when 43 percent of voters thought Romney cares, and just 35 percent did not.

Obama scores considerably better on that question, with 58 percent of voters saying he cares about the needs and problems of people like them. Still, voters are split on Obama overall, which lowers his ceiling against the increasingly-unpopular Romney: 47 percent have a favorable opinion of him, while 48 percent view him unfavorably.

The Quinnipiac poll was conducted Feb. 14-20, surveying 2,605 registered voters. The margin of error for the full poll is plus-or-minus 1.9 percentage points. The GOP primary poll includes 1,124 Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters, with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.9 percent.

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