There aren’t many surprises to be found in today’s Suffolk University and Rasmussen polls, with Mitt Romney continuing to hold a formidable 20-point lead. The big news tonight will be exactly how wide of a margin Romney wins by. If he finishes with above 35 percent of the vote, he’ll be fine. If he ends up with much less than that, it will raise more questions about his ability to seal the deal with conservative voters. Here’s Rasmussen:
Romney earns 37 percent support, with Texas Congressman Ron Paul a distant second with 17 percent of the vote in the latest telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters taken Sunday night. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is now in third with 15 percent, up slightly from 12 percent late last week.
The Suffolk tracking poll has almost identical findings for the top three competitors. Meanwhile, Santorum and Gingrich are fighting it out for the fourth tier, coming in at 13 percent and 12 percent respectively in the Rasmussen poll, and 11 and 9 percent respectively in the Suffolk poll. Rick Perry has 1 percent in both surveys.
It makes little practical difference whether Paul or Huntsman come in second in New Hampshire, as neither one has a real path to the nomination from here. Things are a little different for Santorum and Gingrich, since both are vying seriously for the upcoming South Carolina primary. If Gingrich comes in markedly ahead of Santorum, it could undermine the narrative that Santorum has definitively replaced the former speaker as the conservative Romney alternative. If Santorum beats Gingrich by a decent margin, it will further the idea that Gingrich is on the way out.
Both polls appear to be taken before Romney’s out-of-context “I enjoy firing people” comment blew up into a major controversy late yesterday, so it probably won’t be clear whether that will have a major impact on voters until the final primary results are announced later.