Romney leads Perry in Florida; both close to Obama

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is in second place behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney among likely Republican primary voters in early-voting state Florida, according to a new poll by Republican pollster McLaughlin & Associates. Romney narrowly leads President Obama in the swing state among likely voters, while Perry trails by a few points.

The poll, conducted Aug. 8 and 9, before Perry was officially in the race, showed Romney receiving the support of 25 percent of GOP voters, with Perry backed by 16 percent and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) backed by 10 percent.

Romney leads Obama by 45 percent to 44 percent, while Obama leads Perry by 44 percent to 39 percent. There are higher levels of undecided voters in the Obama-Perry matchup, likely because Romney remains better known.

Florida could be the key state in deciding both the GOP nomination and the presidency. While the Sunshine State's primary date is still being disputed, it will likely fall sometime soon after the early votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

If Bachmann can hold onto Iowa, where she has invested heavily, Romney wins New Hampshire, where he lives and polls strongly, and Perry can win South Carolina, where state politics and Republican primary demographics are similar to his home state's, the large and diverse Florida could end up as the key state for the three campaigns.

Florida could also be crucial in the general election. President Obama won the state by a narrow 2-point margin in 2008, and it has 29 electoral votes, the most of any swing state.

The poll of 600 likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; the subsample of 223 Republican primary voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 6.6 percentage points.