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Polls: Santorum in First Place in Minnesota, Second in Colorado

11:08 AM, Feb 5, 2012 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Public Policy Polling surveys Tuesday's caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and finds good news for Rick Santorum:

Last night's results in Nevada were bad news for Newt Gingrich and PPP's first day of polling in Colorado and Minnesota indicates things may only get worse for him in the coming days.

In Colorado Mitt Romney looks primed for another big Western win to match his one in Nevada. He leads with 40% there to 26% for Rick Santorum, 18% for Gingrich, and 12% for Ron Paul.

Minnesota looks like a toss up with any 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.

What both states have in common is that Gingrich has fallen precipitously since our last polls in them. 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. We polled the state only two weeks ago but in that time he's dropped 14 points from 36% to 22%, and his favorability has 26 points from +34 (59/25) to +8 (47/39). That after glow from South Carolina has worn off real fast.

Tuesday has the potential to be a big day for Rick Santorum. In addition to these two polls, a Missouri survey we conducted last weekend found him with 45% to 34% for Romney and 13% for Paul. Given how quickly things have moved in this race I wouldn't assume Santorum still has that lead, especially given the momentum Romney has after big wins in Florida and Nevada. But nevertheless 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.

Following the Floriday primary, the boss wrote about Santorum's opportunity to overtake Gingrich in February:   

What if Santorum does as well or better than Gingrich in the Nevada caucuses Saturday, or in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses next Tuesday? What if Santorum is competitive with Romney in the Missouri beauty contest primary next Tuesday, where Gingrich isn't on the ballot? Couldn't non-Romney voters begin to move nationally from Gingrich to Santorum? Couldn't populist and Tea Party leaders like Sarah Palin do so as well?

In the Gallup tracking poll today, Gingrich is at 28 percent, Romney at 27, and Santorum at 17. Romney will surely move up several points over the next few days--but couldn't Gingrich fall enough and Santorum rise enough that Santorum's number approaches or passes Gingrich? Couldn't Santorum move into second place?

In sum: Could we be heading towards a Romney-Santorum contest on February 28 in Michigan and Arizona, and then in March and beyond? Romney would certainly be a strong favorite in such a contest, given his lead in votes, delegates, money and organization. But wouldn't Santorum ultimately have a better chance than Gingrich to upset Romney, even if it's still a slim one?

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