WASHINGTON — For the first time, Texas Gov. Rick Perry leads President Barack Obama in a national poll, by 44 to 41 percent, while his GOP rivals trail in head-to-head match-ups against the president.
The new Rasmussen poll signals a breakthrough for Perry, who trailed Obama by 3 percentage points in last week's Rasmussen poll. The latest survey of 1,000 likely voters, released Thursday, was conducted Aug. 23-30 and has an error margin of 3 percentage points.
Since his late entry into the race Aug. 13, Perry has surged to the top of six major polls, displacing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the former front-runner.
Perry heads to South Carolina on Labor Day for a forum with other major GOP candidates organized by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. On Wednesday, Perry will participate in his first debate with his Republican rivals at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., followed by another debate Sept. 12 in Tampa.
Perry's camp downplayed the new poll, with political adviser David Carney telling McClatchy via email, "Polls at this point are neither predictive nor enlightening, but they kill lots of trees and keep many people employed."
In fact, a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday had Obama still ahead of Perry at 45-42 percent, and Romney tied with Obama at 45 percent. That poll was taken Aug. 16-27 of 2,730 voters and had an error margin of 1.9 percentage points.
However, political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of the University of Southern California said Perry's recent candidacy had made him "the new, new thing. It's not surprising he's gotten a bump in the polls."
Speaking of the Rasmussen poll, she said: "It's still not happy news for Obama or Romney. It's early. The primary election season is a series of statewide elections and this is a national poll."
In the new Rasmussen poll, Romney trails Obama by 4 points, 43 to 39 percent. Earlier in the year Romney edged the president by 1 point. The new poll also found that Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., trails the president by 46 to 38 percent and businessman Herman Cain loses to him 42 to 35 percent.
Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said of Perry that "In a series of polls, he's skyrocketed to the front-runner position, and that is significant."
However, Sabato noted, going into the upcoming debate "he's going to get more scrutiny and a different standard of evaluation."
Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said the poll mattered: "It's as significant as anything can be four or five months before any votes are cast. There was an appetite for Perry in the Republican primary, and I think there is a clear dissatisfaction with the Obama presidency."
Jillson said it would help Perry with fundraising and, moreover, "I think it gives him confidence."
The poll was conducted before Friday's Labor Department report that jobs didn't grow at all in August as unemployment stayed at 9.1 percent.
Perry, who's made Texas' economic success a centerpiece of his campaign, said, "The poor national jobs picture stands in stark contrast to Texas' pro-jobs, limited government policies, which helped make us the top job-producing state in the nation."
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