WASHINGTON — The race for the Republican presidential nod looked Wednesday to be Mitt Romney's to lose, with a new public opinion poll showing the former Massachusetts governor ahead in four key early voting states.

But the CNN/Time survey found the race for the party's nomination to take on President Barack Obama in the November 2012 elections to be far from settled, with only one third of Republicans saying they have made up their minds.

Romney leads his rivals for the party's presidential nomination in New Hampshire and Florida, and edges out former pizza chain executive Herman Cain in Iowa and South Carolina, according to the poll.

The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary are the first contests in the race for the Republican nomination, closely followed by South Carolina and Florida, and can make or break candidacies.

The poll brought painful news to Texas Governor Rick Perry, who briefly surged to front-runner status after declaring his candidacy in mid-August, showing him far behind Romney with 10 percent or less in those states.

In Iowa, 24 percent of Republicans backed Romney, 21 percent supported Cain, 12 percent favored Representative Ron Paul, 10 percent said they would vote for former House speaker Newt Gingrich, and the same number went for Perry.

In New Hampshire, Romney led with 40 percent of Republicans, followed by Cain with 13 percent, Paul with 12 percent, former US China envoy Jon Huntsman at six percent, Gingrich at five percent, and Perry at four percent.

In South Carolina, traditionally the first southern US state to hold its nominating contest, Romney and Cain were neck-and-neck with 25 percent and 23 percent in the poll, well inside the poll's error margin of plus or minus five percentage points.

Paul came in third with 12 percent, Perry had 11 percent, and Gingrich had eight percent.

In vote-rich Florida, a state seen as key to the eventual nominee's fortunes 12 months from now, Romney led with 30 percent, Cain stood at 18 percent, and Gingrich and Perry each rallied nine percent.

Republican Representative Michele Bachmann and former senator Rick Santorum were also mired in single digits.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore