Suffolk poll in OH: Santorum up 17 among early voters

posted at 12:45 pm on March 5, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Earlier today, I ran through a number of polls in the critical battleground state of Ohio, showing a mix of results but for the most part indicating a virtual dead heat in the key Rust Belt state.  Suffolk University released its poll later in the morning, and it also shows a virtual tie, with Rick Santorum leading Mitt Romney by four points overall.  It differs, however, in one key aspect — its findings on early voters:

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (37 percent) leads former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (33 percent) by a narrow margin, according to a Suffolk University poll of likely Republican Primary voters in Ohio. Newt Gingrich (16 percent) was a distant third, and Ron Paul struggled (8 percent) in single digits with 6 percent undecided. The race is too close to call, as the top two candidates are within the statistical margin of error.

“The magic number in Ohio tomorrow night is thirty-nine,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “The candidate who gets to thirty-nine percent will win the state in what could be a rather late night of election returns. It’s now down to which candidate gets his supporters out to the polls.”

Santorum led 44 percent to Romney’s 27 percent among those who already have cast ballots, but among those who have yet to vote, Santorum’s margin was only 3 points, 36 percent to 33 percent.

According to the survey, 13% of likely voters have already cast their vote.  A seventeen-point advantage could be decisive, especially if turnout drops off tomorrow and that percentage of early voting ends up being larger than 13%.  However, that advantage is much different than what Marist found over the weekend.  They have Romney up three in early voting, which is a 20-point difference.

I’m inclined to put more stock into Suffolk’s independent poll than Marist’s NBC-partnered survey, but Marist had a larger sample (820 likely voters to Suffolk’s 500).  Also, the early vote in the Suffolk poll lines up better with polling in February for Ohio, when Santorum had double-digit leads over Romney.  A seventeen-point advantage might be a little on the large side, but it makes more sense than Romney getting a lead in early voting when he trailed so badly in polling before the February 22nd debate.

BuzzFeed picks up on a statement by Santorum over the personal cost of the presidential bid:

“I walked away from all of the jobs that I had and all the money,” Santorum said at the Dayton Christian School. He and his wife Karen have been “spending down our savings,” he said.

“That’s not necessarily the best thing to do when you have three kids entering college in the next three years, but our country is worth it,” he said.

The admission adds to Santorum’s underdog appeal, but it also underscores a reality that will bear on him more intensely if he fails to win Ohio on Super Tuesday and his path to victory narrows to almost nothing.

We didn’t need to know that to understand the importance of winning a large haul in delegates in tomorrow’s Super Tuesday races.  If he can’t close the deal in Ohio, it will be difficult for Santorum to keep donors on his team.


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