Coming into a tough February with only one debate scheduled, the last thing that Mitt Romney’s competitors needed was a Romney polling surge, but two news organizations bring bad news to the field and good news to Romney. Two days before Nevada’s caucuses, a poll conducted by KLAS-TV and UNLV in Las Vegas shows Romney with a 20-point lead over Newt Gingrich, while Ron Paul surprisingly fades into a faraway fourth:
An 8NewsNow/Las Vegas Review-Journal telephone poll, conducted Friday through Tuesday by UNLV’s Cannon Survey Center, found Romney favored by 44.5 percent of 608 registered Republicans polled, compared to only 24.2 percent for former House Speaker Gingrich. Fellow Republican candidates Rick Santorum (10.9 percent) and Ron Paul (9.1 percent) also remained well behind.
Among 426 of those respondents who said they planned to attend the caucuses, the outcome wasn’t much different. Romney was favored by 45.4 percent of those individuals, versus 25.1 percent for Gingrich, 10.8 percent for Santorum and 9.2 percent for Paul.
In December, Romney only led by four points, 33/29, and Paul was in third, albeit distantly at 12.7%. Gingrich lost a few points, but the difference is mainly Romney momentum. A quick look at the RCP chart of polls shows that the KLAS/LVRJ poll in December was the last survey in the state before now, so it’s impossible to tell what kind of impact Romney’s big win in Florida had, but it’s certainly safe to say it hasn’t turned Nevada voters off. With two days left to go before the binding caucus — delegates actually do get assigned to candidates on Saturday — it looks like Romney might not have much trouble extending both his lead and his momentum.
That is also true on a national level. Gallup reports from its daily tracking that Romney has surged back into the lead:
Mitt Romney has moved ahead of Newt Gingrich in national Republican registered voters’ preferences for the 2012 GOP nomination, 31% to 26%, according to Gallup Daily tracking from Jan. 27-31. This includes one night of interviewing that may partly reflect Republicans’ reactions to Romney’s victory in the Jan. 31 Florida Republican primary.
Rick Santorum came in third in Florida, and is also a clear third in Gallup Daily tracking, now favored by 16% of Republican voters nationally, compared with Ron Paul’s 11%. Support for Santorum has been holding steady near 16% in recent days, while support for Paul has dwindled slightly.
With none of the Republican candidates yet establishing a dominant or lasting position as GOP front-runner in this race, Republicans’ preferences appear to be swayable by the candidates’ performances in the various debates and primary elections.
Gallup also notes that Gingrich has the “ability to rebound,” based on his previous resurrections, but those were either based on debate performances or (in the case of South Carolina) a primary win — after a big debate performance. There won’t be another debate until February 22nd, by which time five states will have concluded their caucuses or primaries. There don’t seem to be any obvious opportunities for that kind of game-changer for Gingrich until the Arizona debate.
If Gingrich (or Rick Santorum, for that matter) doesn’t come up with a big win in one of those five states before that date, Romney’s going to keep generating momentum rolling towards Super Tuesday, where ten states compete simultaneously just one week after Arizona and Michigan have their contests. Romney’s organization and resources will give him a huge advantage, and will likely bury his competitors unless one of them breaks out in the next two weeks.
Update: Jon Ralston, one of the go-to guys in Nevada political analysis, says that PPP’s first night of polling in Nevada corroborates the KLAS poll:
Mitt Romney is up by 15-20 points after one night of polling in Nevada, with Newt Gingrich poised to finish second, Public Policy Polling reports. …
The first night impressions via pollster Tom Jensen:
“Romney leads Newt by about 15-20 points. The main suspense may be whether he gets over 50%, he will certainly have a chance. Paul is 3rd and Santorum 4th, both around 15%. The chances of Paul besting Gingrich for 3rd are pretty minuscule.
“Gingrich is barely above water on his favorability numbers. Santorum is actually the most universally well liked candidate but it’s not translating into intent to vote for him.