Poll shows Santorum holding large lead over GOP field in Texas

A new poll shows presidential hopeful Rick Santorum with a strong lead over the GOP field in Texas.

Santorum has the support of 45 percent of likely GOP voters in the new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll (UT/TT).

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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has banked his campaign on performing well in Southern states, comes in second with 18 percent. 

Mitt Romney, who is battling Santorum, for front-runner status nationally, shows 16 percent support, followed by home-state Rep. Ron Paul with 14 percent.

"Rick Santorum has cut through the clutter and emerged as not simply the non-Romney candidate, but as the most credible conservative candidate in the race," said Daron Shaw, the co-director of the UT/TT poll. 

"He hasn't totally clinched that, but Santorum has gone from a guy who couldn't get two minutes in a debate to being a guy who looks like the front-runner — not just in Texas, but maybe nationally," added Shaw."

The strong numbers boost Santorum, who rode upset victories in GOP primaries in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado earlier this month to take the lead in national polls.

Surveys also show Santorum ahead of Romney in the former Massachusetts governor's home state of Michigan, the next state in the GOP race. Michigan votes on Feb. 28.

A loss in Michigan, where Romney grew up and where his father served as governor, could be damaging to the one-time presumptive GOP nominee.

Gingrich's campaign has indicted he intends to remain in the race until Super Tuesday, when Georgia and Tennessee vote, followed by Alabama a day later and then Texas in April.

Gingrich has predicted that he would be "very, very competitive in delegate count" after Texas votes.

The Texas primary, however, which is tentatively scheduled for April, could be pushed further back.

The primary was originally scheduled for March 6, on Super Tuesday, but has been delayed over a redistricting fight. Texas gained four seats in Congress but the redrawn maps have been contested in courts.

Judges now say that rescheduled April date is unlikely, with one report quoting a federal judge suggesting June 26 for the new date.