Poll Shows Romney with Sizeable Lead Among Republicans

Mitt Romney has a growing lead in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mitt Romney has a growing lead in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, and almost half of the party's voters expect him to be the nominee, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Twenty-eight percent of Republicans backed the former Massachusetts governor, giving him a lead of 8 percentage points over his nearest challenger Herman Cain in the poll, taken Nov. 10-11.

Romney was 5 percentage points ahead in a survey Nov. 7-8.

[Cain bungles scandal management 101.]

Newt Gingrich, the U.S. House of Representatives speaker in the mid-1990s, solidified a recent rise among conservatives seeking an alternative to the more moderate Romney, coming in third place in the current poll with 16 percent.

Gingrich, who is seen as having performed well in recent debates, was viewed as the second-most ``presidential'' of the Republican hopefuls, according to the poll.

Whether or not they support him, almost half of the Republicans surveyed expect Romney to become the nominee to oppose President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November 2012 election.

Romney, who also ran for president in 2008, has been in first or second place in polls for months and enjoys by far the most campaign funds of the Republican field.

But some in his party see him as too liberal, and he has so far failed to significantly boost his level of support in polls. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, however, shows he is benefiting from missteps by his rivals.

``As the other candidates falter, his image comes into relief,'' Ipsos pollster Cliff Young said.

The campaign of former pizza executive Cain has been dogged by allegations that he sexually harassed four women in the late 1990s. He has denied the allegations.

Texas Governor Rick Perry was in fourth place with 12 percent in the latest poll, which was taken on the heels of his disastrous performance in a debate on Wednesday when he could not remember key details of one of his main policy proposals.

He had 10 percent in the Nov. 7-8 poll.

When judged on his personal qualities, Romney was rated strongly by Republicans, while both Perry and Cain trailed in important categories.

Romney, the former head of the Bain Capital private equity firm, says his business experience gives him an advantage over other Republicans and Obama in the quest to create jobs for the sluggish U.S. economy.

Far more voters see Romney as presidential than those who feel the same way about his Republican rivals, with 34 percent in the poll saying he is the most presidential candidate in the field.

``Going into the primaries, he's in a strong position and his image is solidifying around a very important attribute, which is being presidential, or being seen as presidential,'' Young said.

GINGRICH CHALLENGE

Gingrich, whose campaign is gaining momentum after struggling with staff desertions in the summer, was seen as the second most presidential candidate with 19 percent, 1 percentage point ahead of Cain. Perry trailed at 11 percent.

Gingrich, keeping to his form in previous debates, attacked Obama instead of the other Republican candidates at a debate devoted to foreign policy Saturday in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

``There are a number of ways to be smart about Iran and relatively few ways to be dumb and the administration has skipped all the ways to be smart,'' Gingrich said, advocating covert operations to stop Tehran from making a nuclear bomb.

Perry's debate blunder last Wednesday, when he struggled to name the third of three government departments he would eliminate as president, has damaged his campaign but he remains in contention, the poll shows.

When shown the video of Perry's gaffe Wednesday, 31 percent of poll respondents said he should withdraw from the campaign while just over half said he should stay in.

Romney was picked first when the Republicans were asked who would be ``a strong leader for America,'' at 28 percent, with Cain following at 21 percent. Gingrich was at 20 percent and Perry trailed at 12 percent. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP candidates.]