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First Republican Debate in New Hampshire Saturday Night; Romney leads comfortably as GOP candidates Eye South Carolina Primary

by | Jan 7, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Rick Santorum (left) and Mitt Romney after a debate in Iowa

Both because Mitt Romney has a sizable lead in New Hampshire January 11 primary, and because South Carolina’s January 21 primary is the first in the South, a lot of attention Friday has focused on what three new polls in the Palmetto state appear to be showing: a surge for former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who virtually tied for first in the Iowa caucuses, and a steep decline for former Speaker Newt Gingrich.

A Rasmussen Reports poll released today of Likely Republican Primary Voters has Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, atop the field in South Carolina, but only slightly, with 27%, Second, at 24%, is Santorum. Gingrich comes in third in the Rasmussen Reports results with 18%.

An American Research Group poll in the state showed Romney still first—31%– with Gingrich and Santorum tied with 24% each.

Completing the Trifecta is a CNN/Time poll, which shows Romney much further ahead of the field. Romney leads with 37% (which would be a jump of 17 points from last month), Santorum second with 19%, and Gingrich close behind at 18%. 

“The polls reflected a steady rise for Romney and an astonishing surge for Santorum following his near-tie with Romney in Iowa — Rasmussen had him at 1 percent in South Carolina just two months ago,” according to Foxnews.com.

The winner of the South Carolina GOP primary has  gone on to win the Republican nomination  ever since 1980, when the state switched from a caucus system to a primary.

While the margin has narrowed in New Hampshire, Romney remains comfortably ahead, which allowed him to make a quick trip to South Carolina before the Saturday night debate, the first of two in New Hampshire.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in New Hampshire finds Romney with a whopping 24 point lead: 42% support to 18% for Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Santorum is one percentage point ahead of  former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, 13% to 12%. Gingrich garnered 8% of the vote.

Finding roughly similar results the Suffolk/7News tracking poll has Romney at 4)%, Paul at 17%, Santorum at 11%, Gingrich at 9, and Huntsman at 8%.

Both, however, differ sharply with the Washington Times/JZ Analytics poll, released Thursday, which has Romney easily ahead but by a much smaller margin: Romney, 38%, Paul, 24%, Santorum,11%, Gingrich, 9%, and Huntsman at 8%.

“Romney’s large and consistent lead in the New Hampshire polls puts him in position to become the first non-president to win each of the first two Republican contests under the modern system,” write Ronald Brownstein and Beth Reinhard of the National Journal. “If he does that, South Carolina on January 21 could quickly become a do-or-die battlefield for his rivals—especially given the financial advantage that he is already deploying in Florida, which votes 10 days later.“

As we reported yesterday, Santorum’s virtual tie with Romney in the Iowa caucus vaulted the former Pennsylvania senator into second place among likely Republican primary voters nationally.

“The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey, taken the night after the caucuses, shows Romney again in first place with support from 29% of Likely Republican Primary Voters, followed by Santorum with 21%,” Rasmussen reported  Thursday. “Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who led the pack in late November with 38% of the vote, now runs third with 16%.”

The results suggest that Romney has rebounded to the level of support he enjoyed in October while Santorum “has rocketed from four percent (4%) in the previous survey and one percent (1%) at the beginning of November,” according to Rasmussen.

Gingrich (who finished fourth in Iowa) garnered 16%. Paul (who finished third in Iowa) moved up from 4% in a previous Rasmussen survey to 8%. Tied with 4% in this survey of 1,000 Likely Republican Primary voters are Texas Governor Rick Perry and Huntsman.

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Categories: Politics