Polls differ widely on Romney's edge in South Carolina

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, with support from Gov. Nikki Haley and Arizona Sen. John McCain, attended a grassroots rally at the Peanut Warehouse in Conway Friday morning. “South Carolina, it’s up to you. It’s up to you,” Romney said.

Mitt Romney could be ahead by a wide margin in South Carolina. Or it could be neck and neck.

Three polls released Friday gave differing snapshots of the ground war in the Palmetto State. The only constant is that Romney leads in all three.

Beyond that, the horse-race picture gets muddled.

CNN/Time/ORC International gave Romney a commanding 37 percent support, with Rick Santorum at 19 percent and Newt Gingrich on his heels at 18 percent.

A closer fight is projected by Rasmussen, which gave Romney 27 percent and Santorum at a close 24 percent.

The American Research Group called it 31 percent for Romney, with a tie between Santorum and Gingrich for second place at 24 points each.

Rick Perry, who kicked off his campaign for the White House in Charleston last summer, continues to lag. His numbers in all three polls range between 2 percent and 5 percent.

Rasmussen credited Santorum's making a splash out of Iowa, where he finished behind Romney by about eight votes, for his renewed viability in South Carolina.

"What a difference a caucus makes," their researchers said. "Rick Santorum who two months ago had 1 percent support among likely South Carolina Republican primary voters now is running a close second there with 24 percent of the vote."

The survey still categorized the situation here as "fluid," with nearly half the state's primary voters, about 48 percent, saying they could still change their minds on whom to support.

Santorum on Friday announced that he is returning to campaign in the state Sunday, targeting the vote-rich Upstate around Greenville.

Romney, meanwhile, spent part of Friday seeking to further shore up his South Carolina credentials as the alternative to President Barack Obama. During an appearance in Conway, near Myrtle Beach, he targeted the president for his performance regarding the economy, military and foreign policy.

It was his second day in a row touring the coast, with supporters Arizona Sen. John McCain and Gov. Nikki Haley in tow.

The CNN results show the problems plaguing Romney among smaller subgroups of GOP voters in the past remain, even as he still is the favorite. Voters who describe themselves as "born-again" Christians and tea party supporters are the least likely to support him, the poll found.

 

South Carolina Republican primary presidential polls released Friday:

CNN/Time/ORC Int'l

Mitt Romney 37%

Rick Santorum 19%

Newt Gingrich 18%

Ron Paul 12%

Rick Perry 5%

Jon Huntsman 1%

Conducted Jan. 4-5, with 485 South Carolina voters who are likely to vote in the Republican primary questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

American Research Group

Mitt Romney 31%

Rick Santorum 24%

Newt Gingrich 24%

Ron Paul 9%

Rick Perry 2%

Jon Huntsman 2%

Conducted Jan. 4-5, with 600 completed telephone interviews among a random sample of likely Republican primary voters living in South Carolina (503 Republicans, 93 independents, and 4 Democrats). Margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Rasmussen

Mitt Romney 27%

Rick Santorum 24%

Newt Gingrich 18%

Ron Paul 11%

Rick Perry 5%

Jon Huntsman 2%

Based on Jan. 5 survey of 750 likely Republican primary voters. Margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.