Romney leading comfortably in two Illinois polls

With the Southern primaries out of the way, the next big primary for binding delegate allocations will take place in Illinois on Tuesday.  (Missouri holds another non-binding contest tomorrow, a caucus this time.)  Two new polls show Mitt Romney with a significant but not insurmountable lead over Rick Santorum in the Land of Lincoln, with Newt Gingrich far back in third place.  The local Fox affiliate has Romney up six points with three days to go:

Mitt Romney Leads Rick Santorum by Six Points in Exclusive Illinois Poll:

An exclusive FOX Chicago News poll found a six point lead for Romney among those likely to vote in the March 20 presidential primary.

Romney had the support of 37 percent on Wednesday. Rick Santorum earned 31 percent of the vote.

Pollster We Ask America, based in Springfield, IL, contacted the 1,933 likely Republican voters who participated in our survey on Wednesday, accurate to within plus/minus 2.2 percentage points.

The third-largest group of voters chose Newt Gingrich at 14 percent, 10 percent were undecided and 8 percent voted for Ron Paul.

Despite all the recent focus on sexual reproductive issues, we found no gender gap, no difference between Republican men and women on these candidates.

Jobs and the economy were the issues at the forefront of voters’ minds during this poll. An overwhelming 60 percent of those called said these were the most important topics for their candidate to agree with their views.

Rasmussen found a wider lead of nine points for Romney in Illinois:

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has the lead in Illinois but lots of voters are still trying to decide in the final days before the state’s GOP Primary.

The first Rasmussen Reports poll in the state shows Romney at 41% and Rick Santorum at 32%. Trailing further back are Newt Gingrich at 14% and Ron Paul at seven percent (7%).  (To see survey question wording, click here.)

However, if it was simply a choice between Romney and Santorum, the race becomes much closer. Without any other candidates in the mix, it’s Romney 48% and Santorum 44%.

Almost a third of voters (32%) could still change their minds, according to the poll, which Rasmussen sees as an opportunity for Santorum to make some inroads.  Gingrich won’t be campaigning at all in the state, so Santorum could get some of Gingrich’s support to swing over to his banner in Gingrich’s absence.  More than half of Newt’s voters say they can still change their minds.   Santorum will need an overwhelming victory to outpace Romney in delegates, however, because Santorum didn’t get a full slate of delegates qualified for this direct election.

Fox didn’t find a gender gap in its polling, and the full-field poll in Rasmussen didn’t show one either.  It does appear in the head-to-head matchup between Romney and Santorum, though; Romney barely edges Santorum among men 46/44 but wins a majority of women in Illinois, 50/43.  Romney does better with Republicans against Santorum one-on-one (49/44) than independents (45/43).  He loses by 15 among very conservative voters 39/54, but wins among somewhat conservative by double digits (51/40) and others by a wide 56/33 margin.

If the vote in Illinois comes down to late deciders, keep these figures in mind from full-field Rasmussen polling.  Romney is perceived to be the strongest candidate by 50% of the respondents, as opposed to 24% for Santorum.  More than three-quarters of voters (78%) think Romney would be very or somewhat likely to beat Obama in the general election, while only 54% think that about Santorum.  That will probably count heavily when it comes to late-breaking deciders, so Santorum’s task in Illinois will be to give a positive explanation of how he has more strength to beat Obama.

Rasmussen also published its national poll in the GOP race today, and Romney leads Santorum 37/28, with Gingrich at 17%.  That’s not much change from last week’s 39/27, nor even from two weeks ago when Romney led 40/24.  All of those changes fall into the margin of error, which tends to indicate that the race has become rather static.

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