By Michael A. Memoli
11:47 AM PST, January 12, 2012
If history is any guide, Mitt Romney is a sure thing to win his party's nomination for president.
Romney has opened up the widest advantage to date over his Republican rivals in a nationwide Gallup survey, and for the first time has the support of more than a third of GOP voters.
Romney leads Rick Santorum 34-15%, with Newt Gingrich at 14% and Ron Paul at 13% in the survey, conducted from Jan. 7-11 among a nationwide sample of 1,188 Republican registered voters.
Since 1976, the Republican candidate who leads the field nationally after the New Hampshire primary has gone on to win the nomination.
In 2008, Rudy Giuliani was the national Republican leader before the Iowa caucuses. After John McCain's victory in the New Hampshire primary, the Arizona senator had surged to a double-digit advantage over the field.
Gallup says the 2012 race has been the most volatile Republican race in history, with four candidates leading or tied for the lead at one point nationally. Romney did not become the national GOP leader until late December in Gallup's tracking poll.
Of course, Romney has already defied history by becoming the first non-incumbent Republican to win both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. And a key test still looms in South Carolina, where Romney for the moment has a lead in the polls.
Since 1980, no Republican has won his party's nomination without winning in South Carolina.
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