The first survey since his bravura debate performance last week. I was worried it would show him in the lead and our commenters who’ve been sniffing that polls don’t matter and are always wrong would have to revisit their assessment. Whew!

But say this much for ol’ Fred. If the only thing he accomplishes in this campaign is to derail Huckamania, he’ll have accomplished much. There are worse things to be than a de facto stalking horse:

Over the past several days, the only real movement in South Carolina’s Republican Presidential Primary has been a four-point gain for Fred Thompson and a five-point decline for Mike Huckabee.

The big winner from that trade-off is John McCain.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey shows McCain at 28%, Huckabee at 19%, Mitt Romney at 17%, and Fred Thompson at 16%. Rudy Giuliani and Ron Paul are tied with 5% support. Giuliani is betting his entire campaign on a strong showing in Florida, where he is now tied for the lead with three others.

He’s losing ground in the Gallup national poll too. Best-case scenarios tomorrow: A close Romney win splitting the field or a disastrous Romney loss, driving Mitt from the race and leaving Fred to pick up his supporters. Worst-case scenario: Anything else. It’s also worth noting that first place and fourth place in Florida right now are separated by two points. Too bad Fred’s in fifth. Oh well — by the time we get there, things will have shaken out anyhow.

Update: Fredporn!