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The Three-Way Evangelical Split in South Carolina The Three-Way Evangelical Split in South Carolina

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The Three-Way Evangelical Split in South Carolina

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Republican presidential candidates, from left to right: Texas Gov. Rick Perry; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas; pose for a photo at the start of the South Carolina Republican presidential candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)  (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

This morning's front-page headline in the State, one of South Carolina's leading papers, offers the bookend to National Journal's report on the movement toward Mitt Romney among business-oriented managerial Republicans. The headline reads: "S.C. Evangelicals Split, Frustrated."

Though evangelical Christians constituted a solid 60 percent majority of GOP primary voters in 2008, they "are divided among the faith-and-values trinity of the 2012 S.C. GOP primary, supporting Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry or Rick Santorum," writes reporter Adam Beam. Beam quotes Oran Smith, the executive director of the Palmetto Family Council, a leading local social conservative group: "I do sense frustration that there is not a single candidate that is being put up against Romney."

The Monmouth University survey released Tuesday - which showed Romney holding a double-digit advantage overall in South Carolina - quantifies the reason for Smith's frustration. It showed Romney attracting 29 percent among self-identified evangelicals - much better than his 11 percent with them in 2008, but not much more than the 27 percent John McCain won among them that year while amassing a narrow plurality win in the state. 

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