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Tennessee Also Shows Santorum's Populist Opportunity Tennessee Also Shows Santorum's Populist Opportunity

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Tennessee Also Shows Santorum's Populist Opportunity

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Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum shakes hands during a campaign stop at the Froehlich's Classic Corner, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012, in Steubenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)  (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

A new poll in Tennessee underscores the stakes for Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in tomorrow's Michigan primary.

Like the Quinnipiac University Ohio survey released on Monday, the Vanderbilt Poll showed Santorum marshaling powerful support in Tennessee from the key elements in the GOP's populist wing- particularly tea party supporters and evangelical Christians, while remaining competitive with (or even leading) Romney among more managerial voters. Tennessee, along with Oklahoma and Georgia, loom as, in effect, the top second-tier of contests on March 6, behind Ohio, which is likely to hold center stage on that day. With polls in the GOP race gyrating wildly all year, the results in Michigan are likely to cast a long shadow over those contests.

The Tennessee survey, conducted from February 16 to 22 for Vanderbilt University's Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, showed Santorum leading Romney overall by a resounding 38 percent to 20 percent, with Ron Paul (15 percent) and Newt Gingrich (13 percent) lagging. Santorum's lead is grounded in big advantages among groups at the GOP's ideological vanguard. Three-fourths of Tennessee voters in the survey identified as born-again Christians and they prefer Santorum over Romney by 39 percent to 15 percent. Among the nearly two-thirds of likely primary voters who say they support the tea party's ideas, Santorum led Romney even more decisively-43 percent to 13 percent.

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