Mitt Romney's headed for a big victory in Florida today but new PPP polls in Missouri and Ohio find the road ahead might be a little bit tougher for him, especially if Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum drops out of the race and leaves a single conservative alternative.
Rick Santorum is leading the way for next week's 'beauty contest' primary in Missouri with 45% to 34% for Romney, and 13% for Ron Paul. Newt Gingrich is not on the ballot for that, but he will be in the picture for Missouri's caucus and leads the way for that with 30% to 28% for Santorum, 24% for Romney, and 11% for Paul.
In Ohio Gingrich is at 26% to 25% for Romney, 22% for Santorum, and 11% for Paul.
What might be most interesting in both states is what happens in a head to head between Romney and either Gingrich or Santorum:
-In Missouri Santorum leads Romney 50-37 and in Ohio Santorum leads 45-38.
-In Missouri Gingrich leads Romney 43-42 and in Ohio Gingrich leads 42-39.
Two takeaways from those numbers: if this ever came down to Romney, Paul, and just one out of Gingrich and Santorum, Romney would be in a lot of trouble. And he'd be in more trouble if the single conservative alternative ended up being Santorum.
Santorum is a stronger long term threat to Romney than Gingrich because he has less baggage and is simply much better liked. Santorum is easily the most popular of the Republican candidates in both Missouri (+42 favorability at 63/21, compared to +20 for Gingrich and +10 for Romney) and Ohio (+35 at 59/24 compared to +10 for both Gingrich and Romney). It's just proving hard for Santorum to get much traction while Gingrich is still in the race.
One thing that's important to note in both Ohio and Missouri is that fewer than half of voters are strongly committed to their current choice, meaning that things could shift a lot between now and the time those states actually vote. It may be that once Romney comes into those states his spending advantage just blows the other candidates out of the water the way it has in Florida.
At the same time though it's clear that Republicans in these states simply aren't that enthusiastic about their likely nominee. His favorability is under 50 in both states at 46/36 in Missouri and 47/37 in Ohio. He still has work to do with large segments of the party base.
Romney should score a big victory tonight. But that doesn't mean it's totally over.
Full results here