Mitt Romney's Southern Problem
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is lagging behind other prospective Republican presidential candidates in Southern states, according to new polling, presenting an obstacle for the nominal front-runner for the party's nomination.
A new Winthrop University survey, measuring public opinion in 11 Southern states, shows former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as the preferred choice, winning 22 percent of the vote among probable primary voters. Romney is way back in fifth place with just seven percent, leading only lesser-known candidates like former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Georgian, is in second with 13 percent. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is third, at nine percent, while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has said he won't run for president in 2012, is fourth with eight percent.
The Winthrop poll surveyed only 256 probable Republican primary voters in the South and carries a relatively high margin of error of +/- 6.1%.
The Winthrop poll was conducted the week after a Gallup poll showed Romney in a virtual tie with Huckabee and Palin nationally, though Huckabee had a double-digit lead in the South. Huckabee drew 18 percent of the national vote in the Gallup poll, but his vote share surged to 25 percent of Republicans in Southern states. Romney, meanwhile, saw his support slip from 16 percent nationally to 13 percent in the South, according to the Gallup poll.
Huckabee's lead in the South isn't surprising, since he hails from the region and finished a close second in 2008 to the eventual GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, in the first-in-the-South primary in South Carolina.
But Romney ran fairly well in 2008 in many of the states included in the surveys. He drew 15 percent of the vote in South Carolina, finishing fourth behind McCain, Huckabee and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee. Romney finished a close second to McCain in Florida with 31 percent of the vote. Romney also earned 30 percent of the vote in the South's biggest Super Tuesday prize three years ago, Georgia -- narrowly edged by Huckabee (34 percent) and McCain (31 percent).