A pair of new polls in advance of tonight’s GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire show Mitt Romney opening up a lead among official and unofficial contenders. Both CNN and Gallup have Romney’s support at 24 percent, and both have Sarah Palin in second with 20 percent and 16 percent of the vote, respectively. (Interestingly, Palin is within the 4.5 percent margin of error in the CNN poll).
The persistent problem with all this early polling, of course, is that the field continues to be both big and ill-defined. This is why I like to see a “second choice” question, to give at least some sense of which candidates will benefit from the presumably narrower final field. Thankfully, CNN has obliged, and the results kind of surprised me: Giuliani 16 percent, Romney 16 percent, Palin 13 percent, Paul 12 percent, Pawlenty 9 percent. So when you consider both first and second choice picks, Romney gets all the way up to 40 percent, Palin to 33, Rudy Giuliani to 28 percent, and Ron Paul to 19 percent. I would not have expected so many second-choice votes for Ron Paul or, to a lesser extent, Sarah Palin, both of whom are conventionally thought of as “love em or hate em” candidates.
The CNN poll has a big margin of error and includes “Republican-leaning independents” in its sample (which is why I suspect certain candidates — Giuiliani, but depending on the sample, Ron Paul maybe — are over-performing), but it suggests that Palin is very competitive but that for all the griping about Romneycare, the GOP electorate continues to evince the “it’s his turn” pattern of selecting a candidate.