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Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney Tied Nationally As Romney Struggles with Base, New Polls Show

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AP
AP

Despite a victory in the Maine caucuses on Saturday, Mitt Romney has more to worry about after two new polls released Monday show him fighting to keep his lead among Republicans nationally and struggling to win favor from the conservative base.

A new Pew Research Center poll found Santorum and Romney neck-and-neck, with Santorum winning 30 percent of the support among Republican registered voters to Romney's 28 percent -- a difference that falls well within the poll's five percentage point margin of error. Separately, Gallup's latest tracking survey of the Republican race found Romney with 32 percent support and Santorum right on his heels with 30 percent.

Of concern for Romney, the Pew poll shows him struggling among the conservative groups that make up the Republican base. Among self-identified conservatives, Santorum leads Romney by an 11 percent margin, 36 percent to 25 percent. Among Tea Party supporters, Santorum leads 42 percent to 23 percent.

Romney's support among Tea Party supporters is essentially unchanged from last month, when he received 26 percent support from Tea Party supporters to 24 percent each for Santorum and Newt Gingrich. But Santorum's lead among the group may be a sign that they have begun to see him as the alternative to Romney.

Worse still for Romney, the survey contains signs that Tea Party opinion of him has worsened over the last few months on two key issues: his conservative credentials and his ideological consistency. Since November, the percentage of Tea Party supporters telling Pew that they do not believe Romney is a strong Republican has grown from 41 percent to 68 percent, and the percent saying Romney does not take consistent positions on the issues has grown from 40 percent to 56 percent.

The Pew survey also shows evidence of Santorum's appeal to evangelical conservatives and Catholics within the Republican party. Though Romney leads Santorum among white mainline Protestants, Santorum leads Romney among white evangelical Protestants (41 percent to 23 percent) and white Catholics (37 percent to 27 percent). In a Pew survey last month, Romney and Santorum were tied at 22 percent among white evangelicals, while Romney led Santorum 33 percent to 17 percent among white Catholics.

The latter group has become especially important in the primary battle as attention is focused on new Obama administration regulations aimed at providing contraception coverage for women via their employer-run health plans. The plan includes coverage for women employed by religious employers, though some such organizations feel that the regulations are a violation of their religious beliefs.

The new Pew Research Center poll was conducted Feb. 8 to 12 among 552 Republican or Republican-leaning registered voters, and has a margin of error of 5 percentage points. The latest Gallup tracking survey was conducted Feb. 8 through 12 among 1162 Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters.

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