Rick Perry's polling well everywhere right now but in Kentucky we find him with his strongest performance yet: he leads with 39% there to 15% for Mitt Romney, 11% for Ron Paul, 10% for Michele Bachmann, 8% for Newt Gingrich, 3% for Herman Cain, and 1% each for Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum.
Perry's strong Kentucky performance mirrors what we're finding throughout the South right now: he led polls we've already released in Virginia, South Carolina, and Texas and he has wide advantages in West Virginia and North Carolina surveys that we'll put out next week as well. It's early but at this point he appears to be in position for a sweep of the South and if that holds up he's going to be very hard to defeat for the nomination.
Like in most states Romney has the upper hand with moderates in Kentucky, getting 24% to 16% for Bachmann, 15% for Paul, and 14% for Perry. But they're only 14% of the Republican vote in the state and he's getting thumped with conservative voters. Among 'somewhat conservative' voters Romney stays slightly competitive, trailing Perry 40-21. Among voters describing themselves as 'very conservative' though Romney is stuck in a tie for 4th at only 7%, 43 points behind Perry at 50% with Paul at 13% and Bachmann at 11% running ahead of him as well.
We've said repeatedly that Romney doesn't need to win the votes of the far right to win the nomination, he just needs to remain competitive. But in most states now we don't even find him remaining competitive. In Kentucky more voters describing themselves as 'very conservative'- 47%- have a negative opinion of Romney than a positive one- 39%. That's something he's really going to have to get turned around to stunt Perry's momentum.
If Sarah Palin got into the race she wouldn't be much of a factor in Kentucky, getting only 12% with Perry at 34% and Romney at 14%. She would plunge Bachmann all the way down to 6%, but that seems to be the direction Bachmann is headed in right now Palin or no Palin.
Full results here