Mitt Romney continues to be the clear top choice of Republicans in Nevada to be their Presidential nominee. But Rick Perry's moved into second place in the state and when you dig deeper into the numbers there are signs of potential trouble ahead for Romney.
Romney's at 31% to 18% for Perry, 14% for Michele Bachmann, 11% for Ron Paul, 8% for Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, 2% for Jon Huntsman, and 1% for Tim Pawlenty.
Here's what should worry Romney: he has 88% name recognition. With the voters who have an opinion about him, positive or negative, his lead expands a little bit to 34-17. Perry, however, has only 60% name recognition. And with those voters who are familiar with him he actually leads Romney 29-23. That suggests Perry could overtake Romney if he gets into the race and achieves parity in name recognition- voters who know both prefer Perry.
For now though Romney does have the lead in Nevada. Some folks are inclined to write off his strength in the Silver State as a function of the large Mormon presence in the state. That doesn't tell the whole story though- Romney does lead Perry 64-11 with Mormons but they only account for 13% of the Republican primary voters we polled. He leads Perry 26-19 with non-Mormons as well. So you can credit 6 points of his lead- about half of it- to the Mormon vote but his appeal extends beyond that.
It may look a little tenuous but Romney still has to be considered one of the winners on any poll where he holds the lead and certainly Perry's strong debut makes him a winner as well. Here are the losers:
-Huntsman polls at only 2% even though he served as Governor in the state next door and even though the state has a decent sized Mormon population. This guy isn't getting any traction anywhere.
-When we polled Nevada in April Pawlenty was at anywhere from 7-10% in the various iterations of the field that we tested. Now he's all the way down at 1%. Clearly whatever support he was showing then was quite soft and has dissipated as other candidates- Perry, Bachmann, even Cain- have proved to be more compelling to the GOP electorate. I think there's a general perception nationally that Pawlenty is failing to gain support but in Nevada he's actively losing it.
-Newt Gingrich barely seems worth talking about anymore but on our last Nevada poll he was polling at 21% in the version of the field that didn't include Palin, Mike Huckabee, or Donald Trump. Now he's at 8%. Gingrich still looked like a viable candidate in April before his May implosion and these numbers are a good measure of just how far his support has fallen.
We also looked at a version of the Republican field that included Sarah Palin. In that one Romney still leads Perry 31-18, with Bachmann and Palin at 10%.
Bottom line: Romney is still the favorite in Nevada but it looks like things could get a little bit more interesting than they were last time around when Romney romped in the state.
Full results here