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CNN Poll: Romney Up Big in South Carolina, Santorum Vaults to Second

Dan covered Rasmussen's new numbers, but CNN's fresh stats look decidedly different.  Whereas the former poll showed a statistical dead heat between Romney and Santorum, these numbers tell another story:


According to the poll, 37% of likely GOP primary voters in South Carolina say they are currently backing Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is making his second bid for the White House. Romney has nearly doubled his support from CNN's last survey in the Palmetto State, which was conducted early last month. The new poll was conducted Wednesday and Thursday, after Romney's eight-vote victory over Santorum in Tuesday night's Iowa caucuses. Santorum and Gingrich are battling for second place, with Santorum at 19% and Gingrich at 18%. But they appear to be going in opposite directions, with Santorum's support up 15 points from last month and Gingrich down 25 points from early December. Gingrich, once the front-runner in Iowa and in national polling, finished fourth in the Iowa caucus results.

So much for Romney's much-discussed 25 percent "ceiling." And the rest of the pack...

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who is making his third run for the White House, has doubled his support, from 6% to 12%. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who may be making a last stand in South Carolina, has the backing of 5% of likely primary voters, down three points from last month. Perry had a disappointing fifth-place finish in the caucuses. Former Utah Gov. and former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who is campaigning almost exclusively in New Hampshire, is at 1%.


We're still two weeks away from the Palmetto Primary, so a lot can -- and undoubtedly will -- change in the interim.  Nevertheless, CNN's numbers are significant for a number of reasons.  First, they were gathered after Iowa's photo finish.  Second, they point to significant upward trends for both Romney and Santorum, and demonstrate a major Newt fade.  Third, the media's getting pretty darned bored of New Hampshire polls, where the only drama seems to be who will finish second, and by what margin.  It's becoming clear that the Not Romney forces must find a way to defeat the former Massachusetts governor in South Carolina.  If Romney sweeps the first three states, he'll be very well positioned to take the next two: Florida and Nevada. Romney is already running ads in the Sunshine State and is expected to clean up in Nevada -- where he'll benefit from the state's large LDS population.  Should that scenario play out, the race will be effectively over.  South Carolina must be the firewall. 

Allow me to spitball a few potential gamechangers: (1) Newt drops out.  The rumored (and deteriorating) Newt-Santorum "non-agression pact" isn't enough to stop Mitt.  If Newt is truly determined to deny Romney the nod, and given his current trajectory, he could drop out and endorse Santorum.  (2) Other high-profile endorsers could line up behind a single Not Romney candidate.  I'm looking at you, Herman Cain and Jim DeMint.  (3) The anti-Romney pigpile in New Hampshire could prove more relentless and effective than previous attempts. Work with me here: What other contingencies could derail the Romney train, which keeps on chugging along with brutal efficiency?


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