Rasmussen poll: Romney 41%, Gingrich 19%, Santorum 15%

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Mitt Romney is now running away with the race in the latest Rasmussen Reports’ survey of the end-of-the-month Florida Republican Primary.

Coming off his decisive win in Tuesday’s New Hampshire Primary, Romney earns 41% support with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich a distant second at 19%. A new telephone survey of Likely Florida Republican Primary Voters finds former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum running third with 15% of the vote.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former Utah Governor Jon Hunstman are next with nine percent (9%) and five percent (5%) support respectively. The two men finished second and third in New Hampshire where independents are allowed to vote in the primary. The Florida primary is open to Republican voters only. Texas Governor Rick Perry runs dead last among primary voters in the Sunshine State with two percent (2%) support. One percent (1%) prefers some other candidate in the race, and eight percent (8%) are undecided.

With Romney’s opponents banking on a strong showing in the more conservative January 21 South Carolina Primary, things still remain fluid in the Florida race despite the former Massachusetts governor’s comfortable lead. Fifty-one percent (51%) of Likely Florida Primary Voters are already certain of how they will vote, but 41% say they still could change their minds. Eight percent (8%) have no preference yet.

Those who are certain of their vote already in the January 31 primary include 79% of Perry supporters, 63% of those who back Romney, 60% of Paul voters and 58% of Gingrich’s. Just 33% of Santorum’s supporters and 32% of Huntsman’s are locked in at this point.

Regardless of which candidate they support, 79% of likely GOP primary voters in Florida expect Romney to be the eventual Republican presidential nominee. As in Iowa, New Hampshire and nationally, Romney is also the GOP candidate most Florida Republicans believe to be the strongest challenger to President Obama. Paul is viewed as the weakest potential challenger.

Romney is viewed favorably by 76% of likely Florida Republican primary voters, followed by Santorum at 61%, Gingrich at 59%, Perry at 43%, Huntsman at 34% and Paul at 33%.

Georgia businessman Herman Cain was the leader of the pack in Rasmussen Reports’ previous survey of the Florida GOP primary race in early November with 30% support and Romney in second place at 24%.  Gingrich’s support was 19% at that time as well. Cain has since dropped out of the race.

Romney runs slightly stronger among female primary voters than among male voters in Florida but holds large leads among both.

Among Tea Party voters in the state, Romney holds a much narrower 31% to 27% lead over Gingrich, with Santorum at 25%. But a plurality (48%) of those who are not part of the grass roots movement prefers Romney.

The race is also closer among Evangelical Christians, with Romney earning 34% support to Santorum’s 27%. The former governor has more comfortable leads among other Protestants, Catholics and primary voters of other faiths.

Eighty-three percent (83%) of all like Republican primary voters in the state plan to vote for the party’s presidential nominee even if their favorite doesn’t get the nod. Six percent (6%) will vote for Obama if that happens, and another six percent (6%) plan to vote for a third party candidate. The latter group includes 23% of Paul’s voters. As in New Hampshire and nationally, Paul’s supporters in Florida are much more likely than those backing any other candidate to plan to vote third party if he doesn’t get the GOP nomination.

Just nine percent (9%) of all likely Florida Republican primary voters approve of the job Obama is doing as president, and 87% think it is at least somewhat likely he will be defeated in November by the GOP candidate. That includes 57% who say it’s Very Likely.

generic Republican candidate continues to hold a small lead over the president in regular tracking nationally as has been the case every week but three since late May.  Romney is the only named Republican contender who has led the president in more than one matchup survey and has been running neck-and-neck with Obama for months.

In a survey just over a week ago of likely South Carolina Republican primary voters, Rasmussen Reports found Romney ahead with 27%, closely followed by Santorum at 24%.  Gingrich was in third at 18%.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.