Ron Paul first choice for SD GOP, says pollSIOUX FALLS — Ron Paul is a narrow choice among South Dakota Republicans in the race to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2012.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
SIOUX FALLS — Ron Paul is a narrow choice among South Dakota Republicans in the race to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2012.
But Newt Gingrich is more likely to be the party’s nominee, they said.
That’s according to a poll by Nielson Brothers Polling, a Sioux Falls polling firm that conducted a statewide survey earlier this month. According to the poll, Paul, a Texas congressman, has the support of 22 percent of South Dakota Republicans, followed by former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich at 19 percent and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann with 18 percent.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry receives 15 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the last of the candidates surveyed with 10 percent.
Another 16 percent of Republican voters said they were undecided.
“Republican support is still spread out among the candidates months before the June primary,” says Paul Nielson, president of NBP. “Ron Paul leads. However, more South Dakota voters believe Gingrich and Romney will be the top two candidates, and President Obama fares poorly against both.”
Although Paul is the top choice among Republicans, Gingrich will likely be the nominee, according to 24 percent of the Republicans who responded.
Romney is second with 18 percent, followed by Paul and Bachmann (9 percent each) and Perry with 6 percent. Another 23 percent of respondents are undecided, and 11 percent say none of these candidates will be the nominee.
Both Gingrich and Romney would soundly defeat President Obama in South Dakota, according to the poll.
Romney led Obama 48 percent to 29 percent, with 9 percent undecided. 13 percent say they will not vote for either candidate.
Gingrich led Obama 51 to 31 percent, with 8 percent undecided, and 10 percent saying they will not vote for either candidate.
That’s not unusual. The last Democrat to carry South Dakota was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Obama lost South Dakota to Sen. John McCain 53 percent to 45 percent, with vote totals of 203,054 to 170,924.
It’s the second bit of presidential politics to surface in South Dakota.
Herman Cain won a straw poll held during the South Dakota Republican Party’s State Dinner in November.
Cain dropped out of the race a few weeks later amid allegations of a long-term affair as well as other reports of sexual impropriety.
The Republican candidates held a debate in Sioux City, Iowa, Thursday night. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., will campaign for Romney in Iowa and has endorsed him.
South Dakota Republican Party Executive Director Tony Post said he hopes more GOP presidential candidates look to South Dakota.
“With the new rules with delegate allocation, we are hopeful to get presidential level attention,” Post said. “The South Dakota Republican Party has been in touch with numerous campaigns and we’re looking forward to seeing them here in South Dakota.”
While 298 registered Republicans responded to the poll, which was conducted from Dec. 6 to Dec. 9, Nielson Brothers also asked Democrats their thoughts and a total of 590 registered voters responded to other questions.
Republicans see Gingrich as the most likely nominee (30 percent), with Romney second (17 percent), and Paul third (9 percent).
Democrats, on the other hand, see Romney as the most likely nominee (21 percent) with Gingrich second (16 percent), and Bachmann third (12 percent).
The questions have a confidence level of around 95 percent, according to the pollsters.
The closely contested GOP race is reminiscent of the 2008 Democratic presidential process, which came down to the final day.
Both Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton campaigned across South Dakota in the days prior to the June 2008 primary.
South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant said the poll results were interesting, if a bit unexpected.
“It’s a little surprising because I haven’t heard Ron Paul is gaining as much traction in South Dakota,” Gant said.
“I would reference that Gingrich and Romney were the leaders in the Republican Straw Poll, behind Cain, who has since dropped out.”
He said if the GOP race lasted for several months he would welcome a higher profile for the state in the selection process. South Dakota’s statewide primary is set for June 5.
“I think it would be absolutely wonderful if South Dakota was a factor in the presidential process,” Gant said. "It’s unfortunate we’re at the end, but if the race comes to us, we’re ready, willing and able to bring South Dakota into the presidential process.”
He said moving the primary up would be “wonderful” and would give South Dakota a greater voice in the process. But an early presidential primary would be a standalone vote, unlike the current primary, which involves candidates for other offices across the state.
“The big factor we have to get over is the money,” he said.
Gant said a study during the 2011 legislative session estimated $500,000 to $750,000 for a standalone election. That means it’s unlikely to happen soon, he said.