The Chase 2012

Poll: Santorum with slight lead in Super Tuesday’s marquee state of Ohio

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 35 percent to 31 percent, in a new Quinnipiac poll of Ohio, which will be Super Tuesday’s marquee state. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has 17 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul has 12 percent.

“At this point, the Buckeye State is too close to call and is clearly a two-man race between Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Mitt Romney,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “A third of the electorate say they still might change their mind. With four days until Super Tuesday, they certainly will be exposed to enough negative television ads to provide fodder for those who might want to switch — or switch off.”

In a sign of how critical Ohio is, Santorum and Romney have both called audibles in their campaign schedules to campaign fully in Ohio throughout the weekend.

A win for Romney in Ohio, especially after he had been trailing by double digits last week, could possibly allow him to begin clearing the field and accelerating his march toward the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination.

A win for Santorum, especially if he wins Oklahoma and Tennessee, would keep him more than relevant in the upcoming states, making it more difficult for Romney to coast toward the nomination.

On the other hand, if Gingrich can win Oklahoma and Tennessee, in addition to his home state of Georgia, a Santorum victory in Ohio would help Romney by preventing Gingrich from coming out of Super Tuesday as the last anti-Romney standing. This may also prevent him from dominating the national spotlight on election nights in states such as Kansas (March 10) and Alabama and Mississippi (March 13). The best-case scenario for Gingrich may be if Ohioans get tired of the of the back and forth between Messrs. Romney and Santorum and both of them see their numbers fade and Gingrich moves up enough to make Ohio close among the three of them on election night.

In the Ohio poll, Santorum leads Romney by 6 points among men, 4 points among women, 12 points among conservatives and 17 points among Tea Partiers. Romney leads Santorum by 20 points among moderates, which is keeping Romney in the game.

As Brown, who was in charge of the polling, noted though, nearly a third of the electorate may still change their minds, and that is why this weekend’s campaign events — and television advertisements — in Ohio may be critical in determining not only what happens in Ohio but how quickly the nominating process may be resolved.

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