Romney, Perry are frontrunners in Daily Caller/ConservativeHome Tracking Poll

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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In the September Daily Caller/ConservativeHome Presidential Primary Tracking Poll, Rick Perry maintains his primacy over the Republican field, while Mitt Romney jumps back into contention and Michele Bachmann continues her decline.

This month, the poll asked just three questions: Which candidate do you feel is the most electable, which candidate is your top pick for the nomination, and who do you think would do the best job handling the economy? And the slate of candidates from which respondents could choose has been winnowed down to only official candidates, so Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani were excluded. Paul Ryan and John Bolton were also removed, after each announced that they would not run.

Last month, Perry dominated in all these categories, but this month he has some competition.

Perry remains the crowd favorite by far — 34.9 percent say he is their top pick, compared to just 19.0 percent who name Romney, 13.9 percent who name Bachmann and 12.1 percent who name Herman Cain.

In terms of electability, however, Perry is no longer so far out in front. Just over 46 percent say he is the most electable, virtually unchanged from last month, while 35 percent say Romney is the most electable. No other candidate even reaches double digits, with Bachmann the closest contender with seven percent.

Romney may not be exactly nipping at Perry’s heels in those two categories, but the former Massachusetts governor’s numbers are noteworthy for how much they’ve increased since last month. In August, just 11.1 percent said Romney was their first choice, a number that had stayed pretty stable since the question was first polled in April. This month, however, he saw an 8-percentage point jump.

In terms of electability, last month Romney’s scores, which had stayed around 30 percent for June and July, dropped to just 19.8 percent. This month, they’re back up.

As for who would do the best job handling the economy, Romney and Perry are in a dead tie, with Perry getting 25.5 percent and Romney getting 25.7 percent of the vote. Cain is a close third with 20.2 percent. Perry’s scores remain unchanged from last month, while Cain and Romney have gained about 10 percentage points each. In part, this is likely owing to the removal of Paul Ryan from the ballot — he took 12.4 percent of the vote in this category in August. Romney’s private sector business experience and Perry’s experience creating jobs as governor appear to be weighing about equally for Republican voters.

Romney’s rise in the polls this month could be attributed to the removal of four candidates from the ballot. However, this doesn’t seem to be so clear. Giuliani and Bolton barely got more than two percent in any of these categories last month, so they did not leave a significant surplus of votes to go around. And Romney is certainly not the logical second choice for Palin supporters.

The explanation seems likely to do with the perception that has emerged in recent weeks that he and Perry are decidedly the two frontrunners, meaning that voters are now more focused on differentiating between the two of them, rather than between the whole field. Romney has worked to distinguish himself from Perry, especially attacking Perry for his views on Social Security.

Moreover, Perry’s total domination last month was likely in part due to the bump that most candidates see when they formally announce. His scores, in other polls as well, have plateaued in recent weeks, especially as voters get a more nuanced sense of who he is and what his flaws might be. For instance, the executive order he signed as governor that mandated all girls in the state of Texas get vaccinated for HPV has been in full view this past week, as other candidates have repeatedly attacked him for it.

Bachmann, unlike Romney, has seen a small decline across the board, dropping two to three percentage points in each category, suggesting that most Republicans no longer consider her to be a serious contender for the nomination.

The survey was emailed to 2,500 participants nationwide who identify as conservative Republicans and are considered likely primary voters. The majority of the panel is politically active, with 70 percent having contributed money to a campaign or worked on a campaign. Thirty-five percent of the members of the panel self-identify as part of the tea party, while 58 percent say they sympathize with the movement.

It’s worth noting that while most polls sample likely Republican primary voters, the demographics of the sample used in this poll are somewhat different. The group polled over-represents politically engaged Republicans who have donated money to campaigns or volunteered for campaigns.

The results for this tracking poll are based on a sample of 671 respondents surveyed from September 13 to September 16.