Romney expected to easily carry Colorado GOP caucuses

According to recent polling by Public Policy Polling, Mitt Romney looks primed for a big win in Colorado. He leads Republican voters in the state with 40% to 26% for Rick Santorum, 18% for Newt Gingrich, and 12% for Ron Paul.

A poll conducted over the weekend by the Washington Post and ABC, however, shows President Obama with a 9 point lead over Romney nationally if the two were to meet head to head. Two-thirds of those polled said the more they learn about Romney, the less they like him. Obama does even better against Gingrich, leading by 15 points.

Minnesota, also caucusing Tuesday, looks like a toss up with each of the four candidates having some shot at winning. Santorum holds a small edge there with 29% to 27% for Romney, 22% for Gingrich, and 19% for Paul, according to PPP.

What both states have in common is that Gingrich has fallen precipitously since PPP’s last polls. In Colorado Gingrich was in first place with a 19 point lead in early December. His support has declined 19 points since then and his net favorability has dropped 33 points from +41 (64/23) to only +8 (49/41). Gingrich has had a similarly large decline in Minnesota, but there it’s much more abrupt. PPP polled the state only two weeks ago but in that time he’s dropped 14 points from 36% to 22%, and his favorability has fallen 26 points from +34 (59/25) to +8 (47/39).

Tuesday has the potential to be a big day for Rick Santorum, says Tom Jensen, PPP director. In addition to these two polls, a Missouri survey PPP conducted last weekend found him up 45% to 34% for Romney and 13% for Paul. It looks like Santorum has a decent chance at wins in Minnesota and Missouri, and a second place finish in Colorado. 72 hours from now he may have supplanted Gingrich as the top alternative to Romney, Jensen said in an email.

Interestingly, even though Santorum is polling third in Colorado, Jensen says his personal likability- perhaps driven by the fact that no one has felt the need to attack him- has a lot to do with why he’s doing so well in these states. In Colorado 68% of voters see him favorably to 21% with a negative opinion. That +47 spread is far better than that of the second most popular candidate, Romney, who’s at +29 (60/31). It’s a similar story in Minnesota. Santorum’s favorability is even better there at +54 (72/18), with Romney next best at +11 (50/39).

Jensen notes that there were three key groups of voters that fueled Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina and that continued to be strong for him in Florida, but in both Colorado and Minnesota they have shifted toward Santorum. Santorum is winning Tea Party voters (35-34 over Romney in Colorado, 38-29 over Gingrich in Minnesota), evangelicals (37-30 over Romney in Colorado, 36-27 over Gingrich in Minnesota), and those describing themselves as ‘very conservative’ (38-29 over Romney in Colorado, 41-25 over Gingrich in Minnesota). “Win those groups and you’re always going to have a decent chance in a Republican contest,” Jensen said.

He says Minnesota provides Paul’s best chance at a victory since Iowa. Independents are allowed to vote there, which should boost his numbers, and in contrast to most states he has a positive favorability rating at 48-41. A big key for him will be the age of the electorate- he’s leading the way with voters under 45, but in last place with voters over 45.

“He’ll need to pick that up to have a chance at the upset,” Jensen says.

Interestingly, roughly a third of GOP voters in Colorado said they may change their mind prior to casting a vote. Romney voters, though, seem more committed to their man than others. In Colorado among voters whose minds are completely made up Romney’s at 45% to 25% for Santorum, 18% for Gingrich, and 13% for Paul. And in Minnesota although he’s in 2nd place overall, he’s first with folks whose votes are locked in at 29% to 25% for Santorum, 24% for Gingrich, and 22% for Paul. People who know definitively how they’re going to vote seem more likely to show up so that bodes quite well for Romney, Jensen thinks.

“Tuesday has the potential to be a huge day for both Romney and Santorum. A sweep for Romney would do much to enhance the feeling that he’s unstoppable. Wins for Santorum in Minnesota and Missouri would make it clear he’s a more viable alternative to Romney than Gingrich and give him a lot of momentum for the road ahead. And it looks like it will be another dark day for Gingrich, whose campaign it appears peaked two weeks ago in South Carolina,” Jensen said.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.