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Poll: Romney leading, Santorum spiking in South Carolina

January 06, 2012|By James Oliphant
(Richard Ellis/Getty Images )

Mitt Romney is poised for a three-fer that could give him close to a hammerlock on the GOP presidential nomination, according to a new Time-CNN poll that shows the front-runner with a sizable lead in South Carolina.

But as he did in Iowa, Rick Santorum appears to be lurking behind, perhaps ready to make a move.

Both Romney and Santorum have capitalized on waning support for Newt Gingrich. According to the poll, 37% of likely Republican primary voters are backing Romney, with 19% behind Santorum. Gingrich, who once held a commanding position in the state, has toppled to 18%.

Romney is campaigning in South Carolina on Friday, backed by John McCain, who won the state in 2008.

It’s good news for Romney on a number of fronts. With its core of evangelical and social conservative voters, South Carolina has long been viewed as a potential stumbling block for the former Massachusetts governor. But Gingrich’s immolation -- he was at 43% in the poll a month ago -- seems to have given him an opportunity to take the state.

Even better for Romney: The remaining vote is split among Santorum, Gingrich, Ron Paul (12%) and Rick Perry (5%). The poll also showed that Romney is drawing substantial support from evangelicals, tea party supporters and self-described conservatives. South Carolina has an open primary--all registered voters can participate--which could allow Romney to draw independents and conservative Democrats as well.

Still, it’s far from a done deal. As a result of his strong showing in Iowa, Santorum has spiked 15 points over last month. And the poll had almost half of the likely voters surveyed saying they could change their minds between now and the Jan. 21 primary.

Romney won Iowa by a razor-thin margin and is expected to win next week's New Hampshire primary.

The poll was conducted for CNN and Time on Jan. 4-5 by ORC International, with 485 South Carolina voters who are likely to vote in the Republican primary questioned by phone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

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