South Carolina’s supposed to be his southern stronghold, of course. Back in late August, not long after Perry jumped in, Magellan had him leading Romney there by 11 and then a few days later PPP had him up by 23(!). Now this. You tell me: Simple case of the honeymoon being over or are the mediocre debate performances starting to bite?

Perry gets 31% and Romney 27% — within the poll’s margin of error. [Actually, it’s 30.5 to 27.3. — ed.]

“Rick Perry has a lot of attention down here. I think Mitt Romney has a little more support than people are giving him credit for,” said Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop. “Both should be looking at [these numbers] as a way of trying to tweak their strategy and grow their base.”…

The Winthrop poll showed no other GOP candidates with double-digit support, with “Not Sure” being the next-highest choice at 11% in the trial heat. Businessman Herman Cain received 8% (a six-point jump since the last Winthrop poll in April) and Sarah Palin got 6%…

Given the deflation of some candidates who might siphon off Perry support — especially Bachmann — Huffmon suggested the Romney camp would be wise to recalculate its “wait and see” strategy in the Palmetto State.

Bachmann’s down to three percent, tied with Rick Santorum and just one point ahead of Huntsman despite her high-profile appearances with Nikki Haley. Any lead is a good lead, I guess, but note that South Carolina’s priorities favor Perry — and somehow he’s still only leading the architect of RomneyCare by three:

If his lead is this thin now in his “stronghold,” what happens if/when Palin jumps in and starts carving off chunks of his tea-party support? He’s getting hammered back home too by local tea partiers who are angry at him for not forcing the legislature to act on sanctuary cities. In fact, his team’s already expecting immigration to be a chief line of attack at Thursday’s debate: Social Security has featured prominently at the last two and Bachmann’s anti-vax approach to the Gardasil issue was bungled so badly that the rest of the field may worry that it’s too hot to handle now, so in-state tuition for illegals is the logical next place to press. How do you feel about that, South Carolinians? Is that a winning position in DeMint country?

As for Romney, he’d be looking good if only he could wrangle some sort of high-profile southern conservative to stump for him in that region and neutralize Perry’s advantage. It’d have to be someone with evangelical cred to help soothe any concerns about Romney’s faith, and ideally it’d be someone with enough name recognition that his endorsement could make Perry-leaners think twice. In fact, a surrogate like that might make a fine VP pick for Mitt if he wins the nomination. Any possibilities? You don’t suppose…