Early state polls looking OK for Mitt Romney

Published: Sunday, Oct. 30 2011 10:28 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidates from left, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Texas Gov. Rick Perry, businessman Herman Cain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum participate in a presidential debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011.

Jim Cole, Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Now a little more than two months before the presidential primary season starts for real, new polls put Utah's former Olympic boss Mitt Romney in an enviable position.

"I think Mitt is in a great position to win," said Romney adviser Kirk Jowers, the director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Romney and Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, are running neck and neck in Iowa, according to new poll from the Des Moines Register.

Cain received 23 percent in the poll, to Romney's 22 percent, followed by Texas Congressman Ron Paul with 12 percent. Fifteen percent were undecided. No other candidate cleared double digits in the poll taken Oct. 23-26.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. drew 1 percent. Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Romney were the top two in the most recent Register poll, taken in June.

In New Hampshire, Romney topped Cain 41 percent to 17 percent in a recent Rasmussen Report Poll. Paul received 11 percent, while Huntsman came in fifth, with 7 percent.

According to polls, Romney and Cain are close in South Carolina and the first western primary state, Nevada. In the key state of Florida, Romney has a double digit lead over Cain.

If Romney wins three or four of those first five states, he'll be in a formidable position. No other candidate is considered to have as strong a national organization; none other than Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has faltered in recent polls, appears prepared to challenge Romney in fundraising, according to Jowers.

So far, Romney has "won the money race," said Jowers. "He's won the endorsement race. He won the debate evaluations. So he's very well poised."

For most of 2011, the narrative in the GOP race has been Mitt Romney versus an anti-Romney.

Huntsman, Bachmann and Perry started to get a look, only to fade.

"We're still looking for an anti-Romney, but time is getting short," said Jowers. "So I think Romney is still an incredibly safe bet to get the nomination."

Cain, the latest to surge, is getting plenty of media coverage attention. But unlike Romney, he is considered to not yet have much of a robust national campaign organization.

"The media, the public, everyone wants a horse race," said Jowers. "So, we know who one of the horses is," he said of Romney, but "we're still not sure if Cain is a flash in the pan."

You never know how a presidential race will unfold, said former Utah Senator Bob Bennett.

The eventual 2008 GOP nominee John McCain "was virtually bankrupt four years ago and circumstances fell his way and he ended up being the nominee anyway," Bennett said. "Something like that could happen this time. That's what makes politics so interesting."

The early primary/caucus schedule has firmed up in recent weeks.

Iowa is set to hold its caucus Jan. 3, followed by New Hampshire's first in the nation primary Jan. 10.

Then comes South Carolina Jan. 21, Florida Jan. 31 and Nevada Feb. 4.

E-mail: jdaley@desnews.com

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