Mitt Romney and Herman Cain sit atop the leaderboard in the Republican race for president heading into the GOP debate tonight as new polls show the two presidential hopefuls leading in early primary states.
New NBC-Marist College surveys have the Massachusetts governor leading and the former businessman right behind him in Iowa and they have Romney with a big lead in New Hampshire on the day of the latest Republican presidential debate.
In the Granite State, 44% of likely Republican primary voters support Romney, who’s making his second bid for the presidency. In New Hampshire, 13 percent support Cain and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is tied with him at that percentage. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the former front-runner in national polls, saw his stock in the state drop as it has dropped nationally following poor showings in multiple debates. Perry is now at 6 percent compared with 5 percent for former Utah Gov. and U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is at 4%, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota at 2% and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania as well as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson each at 1%.
In Iowa, the poll indicates Romney is at 23%, Cain at 20%, Ron Paul at 11%, and Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann each at 10%. Gingrich is at 4%, Santorum 3% and Huntsman at 1% in Iowa.
Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the survey, says “Romney has a precarious lead” in Iowa, “But in New Hampshire, he has a big lead any way you slice it.”
Among Tea Party supporters — who make up half of all likely Iowa caucus-goers in the poll — Cain is ahead of Romney, 31 to 15 percent. And among those who “strongly” support the Tea Party, Cain’s lead is a whopping 41 to 7 percent. “That’s a group that Romney has to fear,” Miringoff says.
In Iowa, 30 percent of likely caucus-goers say the most important quality that will decide their vote is that the candidate shares their values, and 29 percent say it’s the candidate’s positions on the issues. By comparison, 20 percent say the top quality is the ability to beat President Obama in 2012, and 17 percent say it’s having the experience to govern. The numbers are similar in New Hampshire: 30 percent say it’s the issues, 28 percent cite values, 22 percent say experience and 19 percent point to electability.
In hypothetical general-election matchups, Obama leads Romney by three points in Iowa, 43 to 40 percent, and he leads Perry by nine, 46 to 37 percent. In New Hampshire, Romney has a nine-point advantage over Obama, 49-40, while Obama leads Perry by six, 46 to 40 percent.
The NBC-Marist Iowa poll was conducted Oct. 3-5, with 371 likely GOP caucus-goers questioned by telephone. The survey’s sampling error is plus or minus 5.1 percentage points. The New Hampshire poll was conducted Oct. 3-5, with 691 likely GOP primary voters questioned by telephone. The survey’s sampling error is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
The candidates will spar tonight at a Bloomberg-Washington Post-WBIN-TV debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.