Newt climbs to top of S.C. poll

Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the newest fave among likely South Carolina Republican voters.

And it's unclear who might replace him should he stumble.

With 45 days to go before state Republicans make their primary pick, Gingrich leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 38.4 percent to 21.5 percent, a new Winthrop Poll shows.

"Newt is clearly the current 'Not Mitt' candidate," said Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon. "Mitt Romney and his folks can take solace in the fact that his numbers have remained quite steady. He's been locked in at No. 2. There's been a rotating cast of guest stars as far as who is No. 1."

The poll wrapped up just as former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain dropped out. Cain's slice came to only 6.6 percent -- just ahead of Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Ron Paul of Texas.

While more than 65 percent say the country is headed in the wrong direction, almost 60 percent believe President Barack Obama is at least somewhat likely to be re-elected.

The Winthrop Poll was taken among 1,073 registered S.C. voters — Republicans, Democrats and independents — between Nov. 27 and Dec. 4. Its overall results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Asked who would be their first choice if the GOP primary election were held today, likely S.C. Republican voters responded:

Candidate Percent

Newt Gingrich 38.4

Mitt Romney 21.5

Rick Perry 9.0

Herman Cain 6.6

Michele Bachmann 5.4

Ron Paul 4.1

Rick Santorum 3.1

Jon Huntsman 1.4

Gary Johnson 0

Not sure/Refused/Other 10.5

(Margin of error is higher here — plus or minus 5.5 percent — because only GOP voters were asked)

Obama more popular than Congress

All South Carolina voters feel more favorably toward President Obama than Congress.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president?

Approve 44.8%

Disapprove 47.8%

Not sure 6.4%

Refused 1.0%

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?

Approve 12.1%

Disapprove 81.4%

Not sure 5.9%

Refused 0.6%

How likely is Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012?

Very likely 25.8%

Somewhat likely 33.0%

Not very likely 19.9%

Not at all likely 17.8%

Not sure 3.2%

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Refused 0.2%

What do you think is the most important problem facing the United States? (Only top three responses listed)

Economy/Economic-financial crisis 30.7%

Unemployment/jobs 24.9%

Budget deficit or debt 8.7%

What is the most important problem facing South Carolina today? (Only top three responses listed)

Unemployment/jobs 38.2%

Economy/Economic-financial crisis 21.1%

Education 10.8%

Would you be willing to cut defense spending to address national budget concerns?

Yes 46.5%

No 45.4%

Not sure 7.3%

Refused 0.8%

Can the nation address its budget concerns without any tax increases on any groups?

Yes 29.9%

No 63.4%

Not sure 6.0%

Refused 0.8%