Poll: Florida Republicans favoring Rick Perry

Republican presidential candidates, from left, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, businessman Herman Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, applaud before a Republican presidential debate Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in Tampa. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Republican presidential candidates, from left, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, businessman Herman Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, applaud before a Republican presidential debate Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in Tampa. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, shakes hands with Texas Gov. Rick Perry before the start of a Republican debate Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in Tampa. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, shakes hands with Texas Gov. Rick Perry before the start of a Republican debate Monday, Sept. 12, 2011, in Tampa. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Republicans currently prefer Texas Gov. Rick Perry by a slight margin over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in their party's battle to find a nominee to face President Barack Obama next year, a new poll shows.

Perry was favored by 28 percent of the 374 registered Republican voters compared to 22 percent who wanted to see Romney as their nominee. The random telephone survey, conducted Sept. 14-19 Quinnipiac University, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.1 percentage points. No other Republican presidential hopeful in the present field of candidates received double-digit backing.

The poll comes out ahead of Thursday afternoon's candidate forum and an evening debate in swing-state Florida. The forum begins at 3 p.m., and the debate starts at 9 p.m.

Perry's advantage over Romney was even greater should former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin stay out of the race and also among GOP voters who described themselves as part of the Tea Party movement.

Perry was favored by 32 percent of Republicans to 21 percent who liked Romney better in a contest without Palin. The Texas governor led Romney 55 percent to 35 percent among Tea Party folks.

However, Quinnipiac's poll released Thursday showed Obama would be more difficult to defeat if Perry becomes the Republican nominee, largely because Perry has work to do with voters independent of either major political party.

Romney, in a broader survey of 1,007 registered voters, was favored by 47 percent to Obama's 40 percent. Obama had a statistically meaningless 44-42 edge in a matchup with Perry. That larger sampling had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

Perry also has work to do with Florida seniors on his conviction that Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme." Fifty-eight percent said it was unfair to describe Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme," and there was virtually no support for reducing Social Security with the exception of raising the cap from the current $106,800 in salary subject to the tax.

Although Obama carried Florida by a comfortable margin in his 2008 victory over Republican John McCain, 53 percent of those questioned in the Quinnipiac survey said the president does not deserve a second term compared to 41 percent who believe he does.

Florida's 29 electoral votes are the most of any state considered to be a swing state in the 2012 general election.

The poll also showed that 44 percent of the respondents believed U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson deserves a third term to 33 percent who don't.

GOP voters seemed unenthused about any of their potential Senate nominees with 58 percent undecided. Seventeen percent said they preferred former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, who served the final 16 months of Sen. Mel Martinez's unexpired term, and 11 percent preferred retired Army Col. Mike McCalister. Winter Park businessman Craig Miller and former state Rep. Adam Hasner each received 5 percent.

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