South Carolina Poll: Romney: 27%, Santorum: 24%, Gingrich: 18%

Daniel Doherty

1/6/2012 10:35:00 AM - Daniel Doherty

Rick Santorum, who was polling as low as 2 percent among likely South Carolina Republican voters in December, is now surging in the Palmetto State at 24 percent:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the Palmetto State finds former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney still in the lead, earning 27% support from likely GOP Primary Voters, up from 23% in early November. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is in third with 18% of the vote, followed by Texas Congressman Ron Paul at 11%.

Bringing up the rear are Texas Governor Rick Perry with five percent (5%) and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman at two percent (2%). Another two percent (2%) of these likely primary voters like some other candidate, and 11% remain undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

In the first Rasmussen Reports survey of the South Carolina Republican Primary race in November, Georgia businessman Herman Cain came in first with 33% support, followed by Romney and Gingrich. Cain has since dropped out of the race.

Although Governor John Sununu’s (R-NH) now recycled maxim – “the people of Iowa pick corn, the people of New Hampshire pick presidents” – may well prove to be prescient, no one can deny that Rick Santorum’s narrow second place finish in Iowa has galvanized voters down south. Briefly state, just two months ago – as the Rasmussen pollsters point out – Rick Santorum was polling at an abysmal 1 percent in the Palmetto State. Certainly, the Santorum campaign must recognize that winning the election in New Hampshire is highly unlikely given Mitt Romney’s popularity. Nonetheless, this new survey suggests that South Carolina – a state with a vastly different and much more conservative electorate – could be within reach.

That being said, it’s also important to understand just how volatile this race will be:

Things remain fluid in South Carolina, however, with nearly half the state’s primary voters (48%) saying they still could change their minds. Just 41% are certain already of how they will vote. Those certain of their vote include 62% of Paul’s supporters, 51% of Perry’s backers, 50% of Romney voters. Just 43% of Santorum voters and 36% of Gingrich supporters are locked in at this point.

To be sure, at least 41 percent of voters in the Hawkeye State said they were open to changing their minds before the Iowa caucuses. In other words, the South Carolina primary will be even more unpredictable. Thus, I’m not surprised to see Mitt Romney campaigning and spending time with South Carolinians today. Unlike New Hampshire, his chances of winning the nation’s second Republican presidential primary are far from certain.