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Reservations about Romney dim in Wisconsin, CBS News early exit polling shows

Wisconsin primary
Nicole Newberry (C) casts her vote with her children Colin (L) and Liam, at a polling place on April 3, 2012 in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Voters in Wisconsin, Maryland, and Washington D.C. vote today in the Republican presidential primary. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Updated at 6:06 p.m. ET

(CBS News) About six in 10 of Mitt Romney's supporters in Wisconsin say they strongly favor him, CBS News early exit polling out of the state shows. The results show more enthusiasm for the current GOP presidential front-runner than in other recent primary states.

While 58 percent "strongly favor" Romney, another 36 percent of his backers said they have reservations about him and another 6 percent said they voted for him because they dislike the other presidential candidates. In Illinois two weeks ago, where Romney won by a solid 12-point margin, just 42 percent of his supporters strongly favored him, but 47 percent had reservations. Fifty-five percent of Romney voters in Louisiana "strongly supported" Romney, but the former governor lost the state to Rick Santorum.

Among Santorum backers in Wisconsin, 43 percent of Santorum voters strongly favor him, but 37 percent have reservations about him. Another 19 percent dislike the other candidates.

A full 83 percent of Wisconsin Republican primary voters think Romney will be the party's nominee, the early exit polling shows. Only 11 percent think it will be Santorum.

Even two-thirds of Santorum voters expect Romney to be the Republican nominee. Only a quarter think it will be Santorum.

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Voters in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia weigh in on the Republican primary today, but the focus is falling squarely on Wisconsin. The politically-charged state saw a string of Tea Party victories in the 2010 election, politically divisive recalls last summer, and will hold a recall vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker this summer. Today's primary will give one candidate a high-profile victory in a state sure to be competitive in the general election.

In this intense political environment, Romney is aiming to win the delegates and momentum to deliver a final blow to his main rival Rick Santorum's campaign. Recent polls out of Wisconsin have given Romney the edge, but Santorum is making one more attempt at expanding his voter base and winning over working class Republicans. Santorum is aiming to perform well in Wisconsin ahead of the April 24 primary in his home state of Pennsylvania.

Romney has shored up the support of several high-profile Republicans at this point -- including Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson -- with some saying a longer primary could be detrimental to the GOP in the general election.

Romney's recent endorsements were an important factor for over a third of voters in Maryland and Wisconsin today. For most voters, however (61 percent in Maryland and 59 percent in Wisconsin), the endorsements were not an important factor.

The economy was the top issue for 51 percent of Maryland voters and 58 percent of Wisconsin voters today. It has been the most important issue for voters in the primaries and caucuses to date. In both states, more voters say the nation's economy is getting worse, not better.

As in other states, defeating President Obama is the candidate quality that mattered most to those voting in primaries today. In Maryland, 43 percent said electability was the most important quality, while 19 percent said "strong character," 17 percent said "the right experience," and another 19 percent said being a "true conservative" was the most important. In Wisconsin, 37 percent named defeating Mr. Obama, 21 percent said "strong character," 19 percent said the "right experience," and 18 percent said they were primarily looking for a "true conservative."

There are a total of 92 delegates at stake Tuesday, with 16 coming from the District, 37 from Maryland and 39 from Wisconsin. Polls in the District and Maryland close at 8 p.m. ET, and they close in Wisconsin at 9 p.m. ET. The Maryland and D.C. primaries are closed to Republicans while Wisconsin is holding an open primary.

CBS News is conducting exit polls in Wisconsin and Maryland and collecting vote counts in all three primaries.

Heading into Tuesday's contests, Romney has accumulated 559 delegates, CBS News estimates, while Santorum trails with 243. Newt Gingrich has 128 while Ron Paul has 45.

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