WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Rick Perry has taken a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential nomination race in two polls released on Wednesday, an indication that the Texas governor could replace the former Massachusetts governor as early favorite.
Although he only formally entered the race on August 13, 29 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said Perry would most likely be their choice to oppose Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012, according to a Gallup poll.
Perry's support among Republicans was not dented by strong comments just after getting into the race, when he raised eyebrows among some of the party's opinion leaders by seeming to threaten U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and questioning Obama's patriotism.
The first nominating contests will not begin until early next year, but most of the other Republican White House hopefuls have been campaigning for months. Romney had been first in most nationwide opinion polls.
Gallup said 17 percent favored Romney, when asked to rate the field of candidates vying for the nomination. Texas Congressman Ron Paul was third, at 13 percent, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann came fourth, with 10 percent.
The telephone poll of 1,040 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents on August 17-21 was the first conducted after the second Republican candidates' debate in Iowa, the Iowa Straw Poll and Perry's entry into the race.
Businessman Herman Cain was at 4 percent, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had 3 percent, ex-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was at 3 percent and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman had 1 percent support in the Gallup poll.
Perry also had a big lead over Romney in a survey of Republican primary voters conducted by the Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling.
Thirty-three percent said they would vote for Perry, versus 20 percent for Romney. Bachmann had 16 percent support. The rest of the field was in single digits, with Gingrich at 8 percent, Paul and Cain at 6 percent, Santorum at 4 percent and Huntsman with 3 percent.
PPP surveyed 663 Republican primary voters from August 18 to 21st.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, editing by Cynthia Osterman)