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Poll: Romney, Santorum Surging in S.C. Poll: Romney, Santorum Surging in S.C.

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CAMPAIGN 2012

Poll: Romney, Santorum Surging in S.C.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a wide lead in South Carolina, a state in which he finished fourth in 2008, according to a new CNN/Time/ORC International poll released Friday, but the surging Rick Santorum could still provide an obstacle in the first-in-the-South primary.

Romney leads Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and surprise second-place finisher in Iowa, by a commanding margin, 37 percent to 19 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is at 18 percent, while Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., is at 12 percent. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is fifth, at just 5 percent, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman trails the field with only 1 percent. Six percent of likely primary voters are undecided.

 

The poll was conducted Wednesday and Thursday, entirely following Tuesday's Iowa caucuses.

The survey represents a significant change from the previous poll, conducted in late November and early December, when Gingrich led with 43 percent of the vote.

The new poll shows Romney, who has the support of the state's GOP governor, Nikki Haley, significantly outperforming his 2008 effort in the Palmetto State, when he garnered only 15 percent of the vote. Romney leads all comers among those likely voters who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, with 35 percent of the vote. Santorum (22 percent), Gingrich (20 percent) and Paul (15 percent) trail among evangelicals.

 

That is a sharp reversal from 2008, when Romney won just 11 percent of the evangelical Christian vote, which made up 60 percent of the GOP electorate, according to exit polls.

Romney also leads the GOP field among tea party supporters, who make up over half the vote, with 32 percent. The balance of tea party supporters is split between Gingrich (23 percent), Santorum (20 percent) and Paul (13 percent).

What happens in Iowa and New Hampshire often has a strong effect on how the candidates perform in South Carolina, which has correctly picked the GOP nominee in every election year since 1980. If Santorum continues to surge to a strong second-place finish in New Hampshire -- and the flailing Gingrich falls flat in the Granite State -- Santorum could sweep up more conservative voters who are still skeptical of Romney. But a blowout win by Romney in New Hampshire -- he leads by 23 points in the most recent Suffolk University tracking poll out Friday -- could solidify support for Romney in a state in which he struggled just four years ago.

The CNN/Time/ORC poll surveyed 485 likely Republican primary voters, for a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.

 

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