Poll: Santorum opens up double-digit lead nationally

Santorum took 39 percent support from likely GOP-primary voters, followed by Romney at 27 percent, Newt Gingrich at 15 percent and Ron Paul 10 percent.

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Santorum was scarcely in the picture just over a week ago, sitting in third place in the same poll and trailing Romney by 16 percent. The former Pennsylvania senator swept a trio of nominating contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri last week and has been rising in the polls ever since.

The latest data from Gallup confirms the Santorum surge but shows a much closer race, with Romney leading 33 percent to 31 percent over Santorum. On Feb. 6, Santorum trailed Romney 37 percent to 16 percent, according to Gallup.

Perhaps the most shocking finding in the Rasmussen poll was in the head-to-head match-up between Romney and Santorum, in which Santorum wallops the former Massachusetts governor 55 percent to 34 percent nationally.

It’s the first time a GOP candidate has topped Romney in a one-on-one match-up, according to Rasmussen, and is further indication that GOP primary voters remain hungry for an alternative to Romney.

But despite yet another GOP candidate taking their turn in challenging the presumed front-runner, the Rasmussen poll shows a majority of likely Republican voters still believe Romney will be the party’s candidate, and also believe that he’s the best choice to go up against President Obama in the general election.

Sixty-four percent said they believed Romney would be the eventual Republican nominee, and while that’s down from 75 percent last week, it’s well ahead of Santorum, at 18 percent.

And 41 percent view Romney as the best challenger to Obama in the general election — again, down from 49 percent last week, but still ahead of Santorum at 25 percent.

The GOP field will square off in critical primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28. 

Romney, whose father George Romney was once governor of Michigan, was widely viewed as having an insurmountable advantage in the Wolverine State because of his close ties there, but Santorum overtook Romney in Michigan earlier this week, and presently leads by a margin of 35 percent to 32 percent, according to Rasmussen.

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