Mitt Romney pulling away from crowded GOP field, poll shows

Candidate Mitt Romney has the support of 24 percent of Republicans or GOP-leaning independents in his presidential bid, latest Gallup poll shows. That's a seven-point jump from a few weeks ago.

Carlos Osorio/AP
Republican presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney meets with entrepreneurs at Bizdom University in Detroit, on Thursday, June 9. Bizdom is a business development center to help entrepreneurs start up businesses in the state.

As Republican presidential candidates gather to debate in New Hampshire Monday night, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is building a lead for the nomination in the latest USA Today/Gallup poll.

The poll, released Monday, shows Mr. Romney with the support of 24 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, a seven-point increase from the last Gallup poll, taken in late May. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who may or may not run, came in second at 16 percent, essentially the same as the 15 percent she scored in late May. All the other candidates were in single digits.

“Romney may be emerging as a front-runner in a GOP race that has been characterized to date by its lack of a leading candidate,” writes Jeffrey Jones of Gallup.

But, he notes, even if Romney were to expand his lead into double digits in the coming months, “he still would rate as one of the weakest Republican front-runners in recent GOP nominating history.”

The political world is waiting for a key shoe to drop: a decision by Ms. Palin on whether to run. Gallup asked Republicans to pick a favorite without Palin in the field, and saw Romney’s lead grow to 27 percent, followed by businessman Herman Cain at 10 percent.

With Palin in the field, the candidates rank as follows: Romney (24 percent), Palin (16), Mr. Cain (9), Rep. Ron Paul of Texas (7), former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (6), former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (6), Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota (5), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (5), former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (2), former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (1). One percent of Republicans volunteered the name of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has indicated lately that he’s thinking of running.

Of the candidates polled, seven will debate in New Hampshire Monday evening: Romney, Cain, Congressman Paul, Mr. Pawlenty, Mr. Santorum, Congresswoman Bachmann, and Mr. Gingrich.

Most other major polls also show Romney with a lead. The only exception is Reuters, which shows Palin ahead of Romney by one point – 19 percent to 18 percent. Fox News shows Romney ahead with 23 percent, but has former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in second with 13 percent, followed by Palin with 12. Mr. Giuliani, who ran unsuccessfully four years ago, has said he’s thinking of running again, but some polls (including Gallup) don’t include him in their list of choices.

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