- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Republicans’ presidential primary slugfest has all of our attention right now, but the general election race is really the more interesting story.

The toxic contest between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for their party’s nomination probably still has a long way to go before it is over, but the head-to-head race to deny Barack Obama a second term is already well under way.

Surprisingly consistent voter preferences have been pouring in for months now, and the latest returns show the president isn’t doing so hot - at least not against one of the Republican candidates.

These preferences are the polling numbers in the head-to-head matchups between Mr. Obama and the Republican contenders, and what they show will most likely determine who the GOP’s standard-bearer will be in the fall.

Last week, Gallup surveyed registered voters in 12 key swing states that will probably decide who wins in November. That poll showed voters “almost evenly split between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.”

These swing states were Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Actually, Mr. Romney beats Mr. Obama in these swing states by 48 percent to 47 percent, a statistical tie, but still edging out the president by a point.

Among registered voters nationally, Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama are in a dead heat, 48 percent to 48 percent.

But Mr. Romney’s stronger showing in the swing states trumps the national numbers because these states are among the major electoral prizes that will pick the winner.

Mr. Gingrich, the weakest among Mr. Romney’s three rivals in the polling matchups, does poorly against Mr. Obama in the swing states, trailing the president by 14 points, 54 percent to 40 percent, and trailing 12 points nationally.

Rep. Ron Paul loses to Mr. Obama by 43 percent to 50 percent, while former Sen. Rick Santorum does a teeny bit better, losing by 44 percent to 51 percent.

Gallup conducted the same head-to-head polls in these swing states in October, late November to early December, and this last one Jan. 24 to 28.

Despite the ups and downs of the GOP primary battle throughout this four-month period, “Obama and Romney have been closely matched in each of the three swing-states polls.” They’ve “also been statistically tied in each of five polls conducted among national registered voters dating back to August,” Gallup said.

“Thus, even as the Republicans’ support for various candidates has fluctuated substantially, the preferences of all registered voters for Obama or Romney nationally and in key swing states have remained quite stable,” the polling firm said.

As for Mr. Gingrich’s earlier lead over Mr. Romney among all Republican voters, Gallup’s surveys now show the former Georgia congressman’s strength in both swing states and nationally “has deteriorated” since late November and early December.

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