Reporting from Charleston, S.C. — Two new polls out on Friday suggest trouble for Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney.
Gallup’s tracking poll shows Romney’s lead nationally – which was 23 percentage points last week – has fallen considerably. He still leads the pack of Republican contenders – which is now considerably smaller after the departure of Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry this week – but by just 10 percentage points.
Romney has 30% support, followed by Newt Gingrich with 20% and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, who are tied at 13%
“Clearly things are collapsing,” Gallup political director Frank Newport said in an appearance on MSNBC earlier today.
But a poll out of South Carolina is more immediately troublesome for Romney.
Clemson University’s newest 2012 Palmetto Poll shows Romney trailing Gingrich in the South's first primary state, where voting starts tomorrow morning. The poll found Gingrich with 32% support, followed by Romney with 26%, Paul with 11% and Santorum with 9%.
The poll was initiated last week but was recalibrated on Wednesday and Thursday “to measure changing dynamics.” Among them was the allegation by Gingrich’s second wife that he asked her for an “open marriage” when he and his current wife, Callista, were having an affair more than a decade ago. Marianne Gingrich made the claim in a television interview that aired last night, but news of the allegation spread before the interview aired; it was the first question posed at last night’s CNN debate.
“We expect a reaction by the electorate to the personal revelations about Gingrich to be registered on Saturday; however, we do not think it will be substantial enough to erase the lead Gingrich has over Romney,” Dave Woodard, a Clemson University political science professor, said in a statement.
Woodard predicts that Gingrich “will win the South Carolina primary.”
Romney, who not long ago seemed poised to take the state, has tried to play down expectations here.
"I sure would like to win South Carolina, but I know that if those polls were right, regardless of who gets the final number, we're both going to get a lot of delegates," he said.
(Actually, South Carolina will contribute just 25 delegates to the total of 2,268 delegates who will convene at the national convention in Tampa, Fla., this summer. The state GOP lost half its delegates because it chose to hold its primary before Feb. 1, violating national party rules.)
Lashing back at Gingrich for making an issue last night of Romney’s reluctance to release his tax returns, Romney on Friday called on Gingrich to release confidential documents relating to an ethics investigation of him while he was speaker of the House.
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond responded by suggesting that Romney was reacting to the latest Gallup poll and had gone "on a panic attack calling on Newt Gingrich to release records which have been available to the public for over a decade.”
Romney, however, was referring to files from the investigation that are still sealed, which Gingrich referenced last December when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi hinted she would one day discuss what was in those files.
Gingrich said doing so would be "a fundamental violation of the rules of the House" and said he hoped "that members would immediately file charges against her the second she does it."