Romney had dropped out of the race prior to the Texas primary, a big prize that yielded 137 delegates tied to the election.
Romney's relative weakness in the region could be a sign that his standing in the South has slipped in the last three years. The vast majority of Republicans in the Winthrop poll disapproves of how Obama is handling health care policy -- an indication that the Bay State's health care overhaul under then-Gov. Romney may be an albatross around the candidate.
Moreover, Romney could be hurt among the more evangelical Southern base by the same questions about his faith that raised concerns
in the 2008 campaign. The director of the Rock Hill, S.C.-based Winthrop poll, Dr. Scott Huffmon
, recalled receiving a Christmas card in 2007 alleging to be from Romney that quoted the Book of Mormon, in support of polygamy.
With Romney already contemplating conceding Iowa
, a poor showing in South Carolina could thwart whatever momentum a possible victory in the New Hampshire primary would create. And potential candidates like Huckabee and Gingrich could use the South as a firewall against Romney in the overall battle for the nomination.
The Winthrop University poll was conducted Feb. 21-Feb. 27 in these states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Sample sizes by state were too small for results at the state level to be statistically significant.
The Gallup poll was conducted Feb. 18-20, surveying 1,326 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents nationwide, for a margin of error of +/- 2.7%; the margin of error is higher for subgroups.