What with all the discussions of the primary rules changes this season, (specifically that there won’t be any winner take all states until April) GOP hopefuls will be looking to make every vote – and delegate – count in the early states. But even if we do go deep into the spring, the usual early states are still a major prize to be contested, including South Carolina. If this new poll conducted for The Augusta Chronicle is any indication, Newt Gingrich has plenty of reason to be smiling, while the outlook is far less sunny for the frontrunner before the frontrunner before Newt.

Newt Gingrich has taken a commanding lead in the South Caro­lina Republican primary, with more than twice the support of Mitt Romney or Herman Cain, according to a poll conducted Monday evening for The Augusta Chronicle.

Gingrich, a former congressman from Georgia, has 38 percent, followed by 15 percent for Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Cain, a Georgia native, had 13 percent.

No other candidate reached double digits in the telephone survey conducted Monday night among 519 registered voters who say they’re likely to vote in the state’s GOP primary. InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion Research conducted the poll, and it has a 4 percent margin of error.

“Gingrich has consolidated a substantial lead among those who consider themselves Republicans, which are the more long-time GOP voters,” said InsiderAdvantage CEO Matt Towery. “The independents who had supported Cain are moving to Gingrich as well.”

That 4 percent margin of error is something to keep in mind when we look at how the rest of the field fared.

Ron Paul 7; Rick Perry 4; Michele Bachmann 3; Rick Santorum 2; Someone else 5; No opinion 13

Perry managed to tie the margin of error, edged out in a photo finish by “Someone else.” The vote for “No opinion” looks impressive at 13%, certainly beating everyone else on that lower tier list, but it also shows the field beginning to gel there. Even if the entire undecided vote suddenly broke for either Mitt or Cain, it still doesn’t bring them up to Newt’s currently level of popularity, and the clock is running down.

Of course, with that said, the polls in every one of the early states have been pretty much of a roller coaster ride since summer. There’s probably time for at least one more rise and fall before the state’s residents actually go to the polls. But where do they go next if that’s the case? For the time being, anyone hoping that Cain’s former backers would wander back to the Perry camp seem to be facing disappointment.