With less than 24 hours to go until voters cast ballots across Tennessee, a trio of polls indicate the state and its 58 delegates are up for grabs between presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, with one of them showing Newt Gingrich in the mix as well.
The surveys come less than one week after a Vanderbilt University poll showed Romney trailing by a double-digit margin in Tennessee. Released Sunday, the new polls show the former Massachusetts governor surging among state voters, closing the gap with Santorum and in one instance having taken the lead.
A Rasmussen poll conducted two days before the state’s Super Tuesday primary showed Santorum holding a 4-point edge over Romney in Tennessee, with a 34 percent to 30 percent lead. With a 4-point margin of error, the poll’s findings place Santorum and Romney in a virtual dead heat.
Another survey released by the American Research Group Sunday also shows Santorum leading Romney 35 percent to 31 percent, with the same 4-point margin of error.
The third poll, conducted by We Ask America, surveyed more than 1,000 likely Republican voters across the state and showed Romney leading Santorum 30 percent to 29 percent, with a 3-point margin of error. The poll also found former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich tied for second with Santorum at 29 percent.
Dr. David Folz, professor of politics and public administration at the University of Tennessee, said he was not surprised to see a candidate like Romney catching up in state polling in the days leading up to the primary.
“I think this follows the pattern that we’ve seen in several other states,” Folz said. “Whoever happens to be ahead sees their counterpart closing the gap in the remaining days before the election. A lot of people tend to make their minds up fairly close to when they cast their ballot.”
Folz also suggested that last-minute advertising campaigns by candidates could have had an effect on their poll numbers trending upward.
“I think you’re seeing some affect of Romney’s financial superiority by his advertising,” he said.
With a total of 58 delegates to be won, Tennessee offers the third-largest sum of the 10 states casting ballots on Super Tuesday. Georgia offers 76, and Ohio offers 66.
Three of the four candidates have been making campaign stops throughout Tennessee in the days leading up to the vote, with both Santorum and Gingrich delivering speeches in Chattanooga. Rep. Ron Paul has not visited Tennessee.
Tennessee’s primary is an open primary, meaning that voters of any party can choose to vote in either Democratic or Republican primaries, but not both.