WASHINGTON — Most Republicans believe Mitt Romney will be their party's presidential nominee and that he has the best chance to beat President Barack Obama in November, a national poll released Tuesday found.
But the CNN/ORC International poll found little enthusiasm for the former Massachusetts governor's presidential bid, instead favoring Christian conservative Rick Santorum over Romney, 34 to 32 percent.
The poll findings underscored Romney's failure to ignite his base weeks into a primary season that has seen one candidate after another surge to challenge his de facto frontrunner status, and then lose steam.
Santorum is the latest to be lifted by a sudden wave of support that has taken him to the front of the Republican field in national polls.
The poll showed that Santorum had the strongest support of all the candidates among Republicans over 50, college graduates, strong Tea Party supporters, self-described conservatives and men.
But women preferred Romney by a 38 to 29 percent margin over Santorum, who has drawn fire in the past week over a 2005 book that scoffed at the "radical" feminist view that men and women should have equal opportunity to rise to top jobs in the workplace.
And when it came to which candidate was most likely to win the nomination or had the best shot at beating Obama, Romney won hands down.
Sixty-eight percent of those polled said Romney would most likely get the nomination, a 29-point jump from when the same question was asked about a month earlier.
That compared to 13 percent for Santorum, 11 percent for former House speaker Newt Gingrich, and five percent for Texas congressman Ron Paul.
Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said Romney had the best chance to beat Obama, well ahead of Santorum at 18 percent, Gingrich at 14 percent and Paul at seven percent.
But only nine percent said they were "very satisfied" with the field of candidates, and 44 percent said they were either "not very satisfied" or "not satisfied at all," almost as many as say they were "fairly satisfied."
In Romney's case, 21 percent said they would enthusiastically support his candidacy if he were the nominee, while another 44 percent said they would be "pleased but not enthusiastic." Another 35 percent would be either "displeased" or "upset."
Santorum fared only somewhat better with 32 percent saying they would welcome his nomination with enthusiasm; 37 percent would be "pleased but not enthusiastic;" 21 percent would be "displeased but not upset;" and 10 percent would be upset.
The poll was conducted February 10-13 among 478 registered Republicans and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.