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Mitt Romney surges as GOP debate season opens

June 13, 2011 |  4:04 am

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Detroit June 9, 2011

Mitt Romney has broken from the pack of Republican presidential candidates, who've been languishing with GOP support in the teens or worse for months.

The summer's Republican debate season opens in New Hampshire tonight (on CNN) with more major candidates in attendance; look for them to aim a lot at Romney. A new Gallup Poll out this morning finds that about one-in-four Republicans now support the former businessman and governor for their party's 2012 nomination.

The new survey reports that Romney's party support has surged from 17% in late May to 24% now.

Of Romney's possible party competitors, only one (Sarah Palin) records support in double digits; her numbers edged up from 15% to 16% during the same period, perhaps due to her highly-publicized bus tour and despite groSarah Pal;in on her One Nation Bus tour 6-1-11wing belief that the unorthodox former Alaska governor will not be an actual candidate this time.

Romney's 8 point lead over Palin is the largest lead Gallup has found since it began surveying the 2012 GOP field last fall.

With Palin excluded from the poll, Romney's lead over the GOP field more than doubles to 17 points, 27% to second place Herman Cain's 10%.

Even with Palin polled, other Republican wannabes trail her and Romney badly with Cain's support increasing from 8% to 9% to pull ahead of perennial candidate Rep. Ron Paul.

The Texan's support faded from 10% all the way down to 7% since May, which will both puzzle and infuriate his fervent supporters, who loyally believe the 76-year-old, 11-term congressman has a realistic chance of winning the GOP nod.

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and ex-Sen. Rick Santorum both scored 6% in this poll, the same percentage that Pawlenty had in May but Santorum's support jumped from 2%.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has also yet to announce but will participate in tonight's debate, came in with 5%, the same as in May. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich's support dropped from 9% to 5% following the recent resignation of most of his senior staff in a strategic disagreement.

Trailing them were former Gov. Gary Johnson (the same 2% as in May), former Gov. Jon Huntsman (1%, down from 2%) and current Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose name was volunteered by 1%.

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-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Rebecca Cook / Reuters (Romney in Detroit, June 9); Gary Hershorn / Reuters (Palin on her One Nation bus tour).

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