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Santorum surging in California, poll finds

March 8, 2012 |  9:50 am

GetprevFormer U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum is nipping at Mitt Romney's heels in the California Republican primary race, while President Obama is well-positioned to win the general election in the state, according to a recent poll.

The Public Policy Institute of California found 22% of likely Republican voters in the state back Santorum, just behind the 28% who support Romney. Santorum has gained 18 percentage points in support since December.

As the Groundhog Day-like GOP presidential primary grinds into the spring, there has been some speculation among politicos that California may finally have a role to play during its late June 2 primary. If that's so, the Republican electorate is still up for grabs: Nearly one-quarter of the state's GOP voters have yet to make up their mind on a presidential candidate.

Bringing up the rear in the GOP race are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, with 17% support, and Rep. Ron Paul at 8%, the poll found.

California remains a Democratic stronghold. President Obama leads a hypothetical GOP challenger 53-37. Half the state's likely voters want Democrats to control Congress.

The poll of 2001 Californians had a margin of error of 3.4%.

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-- Nicholas Riccardi in Sacramento

Photo: Former U.S. Sen Rick Santorum holds up a copy of the U.S. Constitution while speaking at a Tennessee church last month. He is gaining on Mitt Romney in California, according to a new poll. Credit: Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

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