Santorum would get the votes of 45 percent of the respondents if the election were held today, according to the survey. The other three candidates in the GOP race — former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas — are clustered well behind. Gingrich got 18 percent, Romney received 16 percent and Paul garnered 14 percent.
The presidential race in Texas remains highly volatile, and the numbers could change significantly between now and the state’s primaries. They were originally scheduled for March 6 — early voting would have started this week — but have been delayed by redistricting litigation. Texas still doesn’t have all of its congressional and legislative maps in place, and May 29 appears to be the earliest possible primary date.
If the maps are further delayed, the primaries could slide into June. Either way, the other candidates have time to try to catch the front-runner, and the delays move the focus and some electoral clout from Texas to other states that will vote sooner.
“Rick Santorum has cut through the clutter and emerged as not simply the non-Romney candidate, but as the most credible conservative candidate in the race,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the UT/TT poll and a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. “He hasn’t totally clinched that, but Santorum has gone from a guy who couldn’t get two minutes in a debate to being a guy who looks like the front-runner — not just in Texas, but maybe nationally.”