Santorum leads in Ohio, new poll shows

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at his primary-night event on Jan. 21, 2012 in Mark Clark Hall at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.
Getty Images/Andrew Burton
Santorum surges slightly ahead of Romney
Getty Images/Andrew Burton

In another sign of his momentum in the Republican presidential race, Rick Santorum is leading among likely Republican primary voters in the swing state of Ohio, according to a new poll.

The former Pennsylvania senator wins 36 percent support in the Quinnipiac survey, conducted February 7-12, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wins 29 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich garners 20 percent, while Rep. Ron Paul comes in fourth with 9 percent.

Santorum's lead is based on his support from key GOP constituencies, including self-identified conservatives, Tea Party supporters and white evangelicals.

Ohio primary voters go to the polls on March 6. A total of 10 states will hold their primary contests or caucuses that day, known as "Super Tuesday." Fifty percent of Ohio Republican primary voters surveyed said they could change their mind before then.

Santorum has had the edge in both state-based and national polls in recent days, following his three victories in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. Still, Santorum could very well lose his advantage in Ohio before primary day, given how volatile the race has been so far.

Romney and his allies are already on the attack in Ohio. The pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future is spending $252,000 to run ads in Ohio in which the group slams Santorum for supporting earmarks. However, if Romney goes too negative, he runs the risk of lowering his own favorability ratings among the general electorate, which is a risky move since Ohio is a key swing state.

In the Quinnipiac poll, President Obama bests Romney among Ohio registered voters 46 percent to 44 percent -- that's within the poll's 2.6-point margin of error. Mr. Obama tops Santorum 47 percent to 41 percent.