By Elise Viebeck - 10/17/11 09:15 AM EDT
By an overwhelming margin, likely voters believe that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for president in 2012, according to this week’s The Hill poll.
Asked to set aside their personal preferences and instead state who was most likely to be selected as the GOP’s standard-bearer, 49 percent chose Romney.
While this was just short of an absolute majority, it left other contenders in the dust.
The finding comes just as the Republican field seems set for good. Within the past two weeks, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have definitively decided against joining the race.
In recent weeks, Romney seemed to reemerge as the front-runner after initially strong support for the newest entry to the field, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, ebbed badly.
The wild card, it appears, is Cain, who many thought would remain a second-tier candidate throughout the primary cycle but who now rivals Romney in some national polls.
The Hill poll found that likely voters are split evenly when asked to rate Cain’s qualifications for the presidency: A total of 49 percent call him either “very” or “somewhat” qualified, while a total of 45 percent call him either “not very” or “not at all” qualified.
Click here to view data from The Hill poll.