Yesterday, both Gallup and Public Policy Polling released new national polls of Republican primary voters. In a sharp change from several months ago, both found Texas Governor Rick Perry with a large lead over his competitors, including former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. In the Gallup poll, which includes each of the presidential candidates, Perry leads the field with 29 percent support to Romney's 17 percent, Ron Paul's 13 percent, and Michele Bachmann's 10 percent. Likewise, PPP found Perry with a full third of the GOP's support, well ahead of Romney's 20 percent and Bachmann's 16 percent.
Even with these numbers, it's possible that Perry is just another flavor of the month in the GOP presidential primary. Remember, at one point, even Herman Cain polled extremely well with the Republican Party. But as Nate Silver points out at The New York Times, Perry has shown a large lead in five of the most recent Republican national polls, despite his low (but growing) name recognition compared to Romney and Bachmann. What's more, it seems that Perry has become the second choice for supporters of candidates like Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Ron Paul. Public Policy Polling found that in a three-way contest between Perry, Romney and Bachmann, Perry's lead expands to 41 percent support, compared to 29 percent for Romney and 19 percent for Bachmann. Take Bachmann out of the race, and Perry trounces Romney, 56-36.
Despite all of this, however, it's important to remember that presidential primaries aren't national contests, and national polls don't tell us much about the mood in any given state. That Perry is popular with a large plurality of Republican voters nationwide won't matter if he can't succeed (or perform well) in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. What's more, voter perceptions change; at this point in 2007, Hillary Clinton was the undisputed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, and Illinois senator Barack Obama was a definite long shot.
However, if Rick Perry does perform well in the opening primaries -- particularly Iowa and New Hampshire -- these results suggest that he'll find plenty of momentum, as Republican voters shift their support to the Texas governor, and leave Mitt Romney flailing in the wind.
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