A new Gallup poll released today shows pro-life Texas Gov. Rick Perry, should he decide to make a bid for the Republican nomination, is now the strongest candidate against the race’s leader, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.
The poll finds Romney at 17 percent and Perry at 15 percent and it has pro-life former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who appears less likely to run, at 12 percent. Michelle Bachmann, the pro-life Minnesota congresswoman, receives 11 percent as does pro-abortion former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who does not appear likely to seek the GOP nomination against pro-abortion President Barack Obama.
Ron Paul, the pro-life Texas congressman, comes in with 8 percent, pro-life businessman and pro-life former Speaker Newt Gingrich each receive 3 percent, and pro-life former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, pro-life former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and pro-life former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman each receive the support of 2 percent of Republicans in the Gallup survey.
Gallup also looked at three different scenarios with only Perry, only Palin and only Giuliani added to the mix of candidates currently running for the Republican nod. With only Perry added — in what appears to be the most likely scenario in the coming weeks — Romney leads with 23 percent to 18 for Perry, 13 for Bachmann, 10 for Paul, 6 for Gingrich, and the other candidates receive 4 percent or less.
If only Palin joins the current field, Romney leads with 23 percent, Bachmann places second with 16 percent, Palin gets 15 percent, Paul has 9 percent and the rest of the field comes in at 5 percent or less. And if only Giuliani joins the field, Romney again leads with 23 percent, Bachmann captures 17 percent, Giuliani takes 14 percent, Paul earns 9 percent and the rest of the field receives 6 percent or less.
The polling data makes it clear that Romney is still the frontrunner in the campaign and the race continues to be one of determining the top non-Romney candidate. Perry, by virtue of his second place finish over all with all candidates and his status as the non-Romney candidate with the highest percentage in the secondary Gallup survey asking about each of the three potential candidates, appears to have the best chance at becoming the top alternative. Romney leads regardless of which additional top-tier candidates enter the race and that has pretty much been the case since May.
The polling also shows a crowded field under the 5-6 percent range and candidates like Pawlenty, Cain and Gingrich have work to do if they hope to break out of that grouping to compete with Romney, Bachmann and any of the three potential candidates. Gingrich and Cain appear less likely to break out as both candidates have seen their prospects fade while Pawlenty is coming on strong in Iowa and a top three finish in the August straw poll could boost him to the top tier again.
While Romney leads, recent polls by Fox News and CNN/Opinion Research show Romney with a diminished lead from earlier surveys. His support appears soft — as if much of it is based on name identification alone or his status as the top 2008 candidate running for the Republican nomination again. However, the longer it takes for Republicans to get behind one or two alternative candidates, Romney could see himself becoming the default nominee.
If the Republican field winnows between now and the Iowa caucuses in January, with one or more of the bottom-tier candidates dropping out, their supporters could back someone like Perry or Bachmann to become the main Romney alternative and lessen his chances as capturing the nomination.