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By Deputy political director
NBC News
updated 10/11/2011 1:57:53 PM ET 2011-10-11T17:57:53

With barely three months to go before the first Republican presidential nominating contests, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the GOP field in both Iowa and New Hampshire, according to new NBC News-Marist polls of these early races.

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While Romney holds a commanding 30-point advantage over the nearest competition in New Hampshire, he clings to just a three-point lead over former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain in Iowa, largely due to his lack of support among the Tea Party.

"Romney has a precarious lead" in Iowa, says Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the survey. "But in New Hampshire, he has a big lead any way you slice it."

Christie to endorse Romney

Neck and neck in Iowa
In the Hawkeye State, Romney gets the support of 23 percent of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers — identified based on interest, chance of voting and past participation — and Cain gets 20 percent.

NBC-Marist Iowa poll
NBC-Marist New Hampshire poll

They are followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 11 percent, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann are tied at 10 percent. Sixteen percent are undecided.

Among Tea Party supporters — who make up half of all likely Iowa caucus-goers in the poll — Cain is ahead of Romney, 31 to 15 percent. And among those who "strongly" support the Tea Party, Cain's lead is a whopping 41 to 7 percent.

"That's a group that Romney has to fear," Miringoff says.

In the Granite State, where the Republican presidential candidates gather for a debate on Tuesday night, Romney holds a significant lead.

According to the poll, he gets the support of 44 percent of likely primary voters, followed by Cain and Paul at 13 percent each, Perry at 6 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 5 percent. Eleven percent say they are undecided.

The NBC-Marist polls are the latest surveys — on both the state and national levels — to show Romney ahead, Cain in second and Perry and Bachmann trying to keep up with the leaders.

Other examples this week include a national Washington Post/Bloomberg poll and a national Gallup survey.

The Iowa and New Hampshire polls also find that likely GOP voters are placing more emphasis on issues and values than on electability and experience.

In Iowa, 30 percent of likely caucus-goers say the most important quality that will decide their vote is that the candidate shares their values, and 29 percent say it’s the candidate’s positions on the issues.

By comparison, 20 percent say the top quality is the ability to beat President Obama in 2012, and 17 percent say it’s having the experience to govern.

The numbers are similar in New Hampshire: 30 percent say it’s the issues, 28 percent cite values, 22 percent say experience and 19 percent point to electability.

Obama struggling in both states
The NBC-Marist surveys also show that Obama is struggling in both states, which are typically battlegrounds in a general-election contest.

Just 42 percent of all registered voters in Iowa approve of Obama’s performance as president, and it’s lower in New Hampshire — with his approval rating at just 38 percent.

In hypothetical general-election matchups, Obama leads Romney by three points in Iowa, 43 to 40 percent, and he leads Perry by nine, 46 to 37 percent.

In the Granite State, however, Romney has a nine-point advantage over the sitting president, 49 to 40 percent, while Obama leads Perry by six, 46 to 40 percent.

With 13 months until the general election, Miringoff concludes that both of these states — which Obama carried in 2008 — will be competitive in 2012.

“These are two states that are in play for the general,” he says.

The Iowa survey was conducted Oct. 3-5 of 2,836 total registered voters (with a margin of error of plus-minus 1.8 percentage points) and of 371 likely GOP caucus-goers (plus-minus 5.1 percentage points).

The New Hampshire survey was conducted Oct. 3-5 of 2,218 total registered voters (plus-minus 2.1 percentage points) and of 691 likely Republican primary voters (plus-minus 3.7 percentage points).

Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: New polls show red flags for Romney

  1. Closed captioning of: New polls show red flags for Romney

    >>> the new nbc news/ marist poll out this morning. chuck todd joins us, good morning.

    >> good morning, ann. the republican presidential primary campaign may seem like a national contest sometimes but remember it's a state by state contest and while mitt romney is ahead, there are a lot of red flags . warming up for tonight's debate, mitt romney spent columbus day campaigning on virtually his home turf of new hampshire .

    >> you'd look good in air force one.

    >> his new stand something underscored by the marist poll where he holds a lead over the rest of the field, 44%, nearly combined the total of the two closest rivals but in iowa they show romney neck in neck not with perry but with herman cain . romney 's challenge with iowa republicans mirrors his challenge with conservatives nationwide. in iowa , tea party supporters, half of all support caucus goers support cain over romney . another red flag for romney n iowa and new hampshire republican voters say electability and experience are less important than picking a candidate who shares their values and positions.

    >> reporter: the path we pursue will find it's the best one.

    >> this new ad from rick perry questioning romney 's conservati conservative tributes.

    >> reporter: massachusetts law as the model for obama care.

    >> i believe with romney .

    >> even though the attack ad isn't airing on broadcast tv romney felt compelled to respond.

    >> reporter: you're going to find people will take what i've said and try and say something else.

    >> for her man cain tonight tests his staying power . though he's never held public office he does have a public record , a talk show he hosted for three years, starting in early 2008 .

    >> reporter: in the last two years, nearly two years of this hijacking by this ultraliberal president and this ultralibical congress --

    >> president obama , who travels to yet another swing state today to sell his jobs plan, this time pennsylvania, has his work cut out for him in two other swing states . the new nbc/ marist survey shows job approval ratings are upside down in iowa and new hampshire , two states he won by big margins in 2008 . now the obama campaign is out this morning with a memo penned by david axelrod who is making the case that while you look at the president's job approval ratings don't forget congress has some bad ratings and maybe that will get republicans to support the president on that jobs bill, which debuts today. matt?

    >> reporter: a senior adviser to president obama , david, good to see you.

    >>

Explainer: The 2012 GOP presidential field

  • A look at the Republican candidates hoping to challenge Barack Obama in the general election.

  • Rick Perry, announced Aug. 13

    Image: Perry
    Sean Gardner  /  REUTERS
    Texas Gov. Rick Perry

    Mere hours before a major GOP debate in Iowa (and a couple of days before the high-interest Ames straw poll), the Perry camp announced that the Texas governor was all-in for 2012.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas governor.

    While some on ground in the early-caucus state criticized the distraction, strategists applauded the move and said Perry was giving Romney a run for his money.

    Slideshow: A look at Gov. Rick Perry's political career

    He may face fierce opposition from secular groups and progressives who argue that his religious rhetoric violates the separation of church and state and that his belief that some groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, should be allowed to discriminate against gays is bigoted.

  • Jon Huntsman, announced June 21

    Image: Jon Hunt
    Mandel Ngan  /  AFP - Getty Images file
    Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

    Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, made his bid official on June 21 at at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former governor of Utah.

    He vowed to provide "leadership that knows we need more than hope" and "leadership that doesn’t promise Washington has all the solutions to our problems."

    The early days of his campaign were clouded with reports of internal discord among senior staffers.

    Slideshow: Jon Huntsman Jr.

    Huntsman, who is Mormon, worked as a missionary in Taiwan and is fluent in Mandarin. But his moderate credentials — backing civil unions for gays and the cap-and-trade energy legislation — could hurt him in a GOP primary. So could serving under Obama.

  • Michele Bachmann, announced on June 13

    Image: Michele Bachmann
    Larry Downing  /  REUTERS
    Rep. Michele Bachmann

    Born and raised in Iowa, this Tea Party favorite and Minnesota congresswoman announced during a June 13 GOP debate that she's officially in the running for the Republican nomination.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Minn. congresswoman.

    Bachmann tells The Associated Press she decided to jump into the 2012 race at this time because she believed it was "the right thing to do."

    She's been criticized for making some high-profile gaffes — among them, claiming taxpayers would be stuck with a $200 million per day tab for President Barack Obama's trip to India and identifying New Hampshire as the site of the Revolutionary War's opening shots.

    Slideshow: The political life of Michele Bachmann

    But Bachmann's proved a viable fundraiser, collecting more than $2 million in political contributions in the first 90 days of 2011 — slightly exceeding the $1.8 million Mitt Romney brought in via his PAC in the first quarter.

  • Rick Santorum, announced on June 6

    Image: Rick Santorum
    Charlie Neibergall  /  AP file
    Former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum

    A staunch cultural conservative vehemently against abortion and gay marriage, the former Pennsylvania senator hopes to energize Republicans with a keen focus on social issues.

    He announced the launch of a presidential exploratory committee on FOX News, where he makes regular appearances. He make his run official on June 6 in Somerset, Pa., asking supporters to "Join the fight!"

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Pennsylvania senator.

    No stranger to controversy, Santorum was condemned by a wide range of groups in 2003 for equating homosexuality with incest, pedophilia and bestiality. More recently, Santorum faced criticism when he called Obama’s support for abortion rights “almost remarkable for a black man.”

    Slideshow: Rick Santorum's political life

    Since his defeat by Democrat Robert Casey in his 2006 re-election contest — by a whopping 18 percentage points — Santorum has worked as an attorney and as a think-tank contributor.

    A February straw poll at CPAC had him in twelfth place amongst Republicans with 2 percent of the vote.

  • Mitt Romney, announced on June 2

    Image: Mitt Romney
    Paul Sancya  /  AP file
    Former Massachusetts Gov. and presidential candidate Mitt Romney

    The former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate has spent the last three years laying the foundations for another run at the White House — building a vigorous political action committee, making regular media appearances, and penning a policy-heavy book.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Mass. governor.

    In April, he announced, via YouTube and Twitter, that he'd formed an exploratory commitee. Romney made his run official in Stratham, N.H., on June 2.

    The former CEO of consulting firm Bain & Company and the president of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Romney frequently highlights his business background as one of his main qualifications to serve as president.

    Slideshow: Mitt Romney's life in politics

    To capture the nomination, Romney will have to defend the health care overhaul he enacted during his governorship — legislation that bears similarities to the Obama-backed bill despised by many conservatives. He'll also have to overcome the perception of being a flip-flopper (like supporting abortion rights in his 1994 and 2002 bids for office, but opposing them in his '08 run).

    In the first quarter of 2011, he netted some $1.8 million through his PAC "Free and Strong America."

  • Herman Cain, announced on May 21

    Image: Herman Cain
    Brendan Smialowski  /  Getty Images file
    Talk show host Herman Cain

    Cain, an Atlanta radio host and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has support from some Tea Party factions.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Atlanta radio host.

    An African-American who describes himself as a “citizen’s candidate,” he was the first Republican to form a formal presidential exploratory committee. He officially entered the race in May, telling supporters, "When we wake up and they declare the presidential results, and Herman Cain is in the White House, we'll all be able to say, free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, this nation is free at last, again!"

    Prior to the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate, Cain rehashed the birther theory, telling a Florida blogger, “I respect people that believe he should prove his citizenship ... He should prove he was born in the United States of America.”

  • Ron Paul, announced on May 13

    Image: Ron Paul
    Cliff Owen  /  AP file
    Rep. Ron Paul

    In 2008, Texas congressman Ron Paul’s libertarian rallying cry — and his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — did not fall on deaf ears. An idiosyncratic foe of the Federal Reserve and a passionate advocate for limited government, Paul mounted a presidential run that was characterized by bursts of jaw-dropping online fundraising.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas congressman.

    Slideshow: Ron Paul

    He officially launched his 2012 campaign in New Hampshire, saying, ""The revolution is spreading, and the momentum is building ... Our time has come."

    In the first quarter of 2011, raked in some $3 million through his various political organizations.

  • Newt Gingrich, announced on May 11

    Image: Newt Gingrich
    John M. Heller  /  Getty Images file
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

    The former speaker of the House who led the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” Gingrich remains a robust presence on the GOP stage as a prolific writer and political thinker. In recent years, Barack Obama has provided a new target for the blistering critiques Gingrich famously leveled at President Bill Clinton.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former speaker of the House.

    In early May, he made his 2012 run official. "I have been humbled by all the encouragement you have given me to run," Gingrich wrote on Facebook and Twitter.

    But a month later, the campaign was practically in ruins — with his campaign manager, spokesman, senior strategists all resigning en masse. Most cited issues with the "direction" of the campaign. But Gingrich vowed to press on.

    Slideshow: Newt Gingrich

    Also at issue: Gingrich’s personal life could make winning the support of social conservatives thorny for the twice-divorced former lawmaker. In a damning interview earlier this year, Esquire quoted one of Gingrich’s former wives describing him as a hypocrite who preached the sanctity of marriage while in the midst of conducting an illicit affair.

    Additional obstacles include his recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan as “right-wing social engineering" and reports of a $500,000 line of credit to Tiffany’s, the luxury jewelry company.

  • Gary Johnson, announced on April 21

    Image:Gary Johnson
    Jim Cole  /  AP
    Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson

    The former New Mexico governor took a big leap in late April, not by announcing an exploratory committee, but by actually announcing his official candidacy. “I’m running for president of the United States,” he told a couple of supporters and cameramen gathered for his announcement outside the New Hampshire State Capitol.

    He's a steadfast libertarian who supports the legalization of marijuana. He vetoed more than 700 pieces of legislation during his two terms as governor.

Photos: Mitt Romney

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  1. Mitt Romney at the age of 1, in 1948, the son of the eventual three-term Republican governor of Michigan and unsuccessful presidential candidate, George Romney, and his wife, Lenore, an unsuccessful candidate for senator from Michigan. (MittRomney.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Mitt with his father, George Romney, taken about 1957. (MittRomney.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. American Motors President George Romney with his wife, children, and grandchildren. Mitt Romney's father was elected governor of Michigan in 1962. Mitt was an intern in the governor's office and traveled with his father to the 1964 Republican National Convention. (Francis Miller / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Mitt Romney, at left, with fellow Mormon missionaries in front of the police station in Limoges, central France, in autumn 1968. The fresh-faced Latter-Day Saints who came to France in the late 1960s to preach the message of Jesus Christ -- of which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is the most well-known -- discovered a secular and skeptical populace, and few willing converts. On bad days, the young Americans were greeted with guns, or barking dogs chased at their heels. Romney has said his mission, which took him through LeHavre, Paris and Bordeaux, was a testing time, with rejection an everyday occurrence. But it was precisely this two and half years that helped cement Romney's tenacity and his faith, say current and former missionaries. (Mike Bush via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Mitt and Ann Lois Davies on their wedding day, March 21, 1969. They first met in elementary school, but started dating in the spring of 1965. Later Ann suffered from multiple sclerosis and breast cancer. (MittRomney.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mitt and Ann Romney with their five sons in 1981: Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig. (MittRomney.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Mitt Romney, CEO and president of Salt Lake Organizing Committee, joins U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on Jan. 22, 2002 at a press conference ahead of the city's Olympic Games. Before Romney came on, the event was running $379 million behind budget and allegations of bribery shook the organization's top brass. Romney was also tasked with keeping the games safe in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. (George Frey / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Former Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney, with his wife Ann, speaks at a press conference on March 19, 2002 at his home in Belmont, Mass. Romney announced that he was entering the governor's race. The announcement came just hours after acting Gov. Jane Swift announced she will bow out of the contest. (Darren McCollester / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. President George W. Bush stands beside Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney at the Seaport Hotel on Oct. 4 2002 in Boston, Massachusetts. Bush was campaigning in the Bay State as Republicans attempted to extend a 12-year grip on the governorship of this otherwise Democratic-controlled commonwealth. Romney went on to serve as governor from 2003-2007. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Two men on opposite sides of the issue argue over gay marriage outside the Massachusetts State House while the legislature was in its second day of debate over a possible constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on Feb. 12, 2004 in Boston. The proposed amendment, supported by Gov. Mitt Romney, was drafted in response to a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling declaring that the right to same-sex marriage was protected by the state's constitution. (Michael Springer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Photographs of the victims line the stage as Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, his wife Suzanne, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann bow their heads in prayer during a memorial service on the eve of the one-year anniversary of The Station nightclub fire Feb. 19, 2004 in Cranston, R.I. The Station, located in nearby West Warwick, was destroyed and 100 people died after a fire broke out when the rock band Great White ignited pyrotechnics on Feb. 20, 2003. (Michael Springer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mitt Romney looks on while Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation John Cogliano speaks during a press conference at the Statehouse in Boston. Governor Romney announced on July 13, 2006 that he was filing emergency legislation to give the Executive Branch the authority to oversee the inspection of the failed ceiling system in the I-90 Connector tunnel. A large section of the "Big Dig" tunnel was found to be faulty after a 12-ton portion collapsed, killing a woman and injuring her husband. (Darren Mccollester / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Romney signs into law a new health care reform bill during a ceremony at Faneuil Hall April 12, 2006 in Boston. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy joined Romney for the signing of the bill, which made Massachusetts the first state in the country to require all residents have health insurance. His support of a plan that many feel was an inspiration for "Obamacare" has put the Republican on the defensive ahead of the 2012 elections. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Romney and his wife Ann turn to wave from the red carpet in front of the Statehouse, in Boston, as he completes his "lone walk" out on Jan. 3, 2007, the day before his replacement, Deval Patrick, is sworn in as the new governor. (Steven Senne / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Romney officially announces he is entering the race for the Republican presidential nomination Feb. 13, 2007 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. Romney kicked off his three-day, four state announcement tour of Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, addressing the need to build a "new American dream" by strengthening families and education. (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Romney speaks on faith in America at The George Bush Presidential Library on Texas A & M University campus Dec. 6, 2007 in College Station, Texas. Romney talked about the role of religion in government and his Mormon faith. As a young missionary, Romney spent several years in France. (Ben Sklar / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Romney speaks, alongside his sons and wife, during a post-primary rally on Jan. 29, 2008 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Romney came in second to John McCain. Days earlier, McCain took the South Carolina primary, where Romney placed fourth. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Trailing John McCain following the Super Tuesday presidential primaries, Romney calls it quits during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee on Feb. 7, 2008 in Washington. He's seen here, waving goodbye to the crowd with his wife Ann. (Jonathan Ernst / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Romney shakes hands with Sen. John McCain after endorsing his presidential bid in Boston on Feb. 14, 2008. Romney had just ended his own, unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination. All in all, Romney won 11 primaries and caucuses and was considered to be on McCain's short-list for vice president. (Darren Mccollester / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Romney reacts to the crowd on day three of the Republican National Convention at the Xcel Energy Center on Sept. 3, 2008 in St. Paul, Minn. Having failed in his own bid to headline the party ticket, Romney threw his support toward John MCCain, who was officially nominated on the last day of the convention. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," written by Romney, is seen in Washington, D.C., on March 5, 2010. The major theme of the book is the idea of American exceptionalism - meant to address Romney's belief that President Barack Obama spends too much time abroad apologizing for past national trangressions. (Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Volunteers participate in a Mitt Romney phone bank fundraiser, Monday, May 16, 2011, in Las Vegas. The former Massachusetts governor worked with volunteers to reach out to voters and donors through cell phones and computers. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announces he joining the race for President of the United States, June 2, 2011, during a campaign event at Bittersweet Farm in Stratham, N.H. (Stephan Savoia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann embrace at the Hotel Fort Des Moines on the night of the Iowa Caucuses Jan. 3, 2012 in Des Moines, Iowa. On the night of the Iowa contest, Mitt Romney was projected the winner by a mere eight votes, but on Jan. 19, the Iowa GOP declared that after certifying the results, Santorum had officially won the primary by 34 votes. (Win Mcnamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Former presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, announces his endorsement of Mitt Romney during a town hall meeting at Central High School Jan. 4, 2012 in Manchester, N.H. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Romney takes center stage during his primary night rally with members of his family, left to right, Matt, Tagg, Craig, wife Ann, Ben and Josh Romney following the first-in-the-nation primary at Southern New Hampshire University Jan. 10, 2012 in Manchester, N.H. Romney finished first in the state's primary election with 39% of the vote and collected seven delegates. (Win Mcnamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Mitt Romney waves to supporters behind him as he takes the podium on primary night in Columbia, South Carolina on Jan. 21, 2012. Romney conceded defeat in the South Carolina primary to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who came from behind to beat him by 12 percent. (Pool / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Romney shakes hands with supporters at his Florida primary night rally in Tampa, Jan. 31. Romney beat his four opponents and collected the state's 50 delegates, putting him in the lead with 87 delegates, ahead of Newt Gingrich's 26. (Steve Nesius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Mitt Romney shakes hands with businessman and real estate developer Donald Trump at the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas, Feb. 2. Trump re-injected himself and his wealth into the Republican presidential race by endorsing Romney, a day after the front-runner stumbled with remarks suggesting he was indifferent to America's poor. (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets his wife and family along with vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, his wife and family on stage after accepting the nomination at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 30, in Tampa, Florida. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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