Rasmussen SC poll shows Romney with 7-point lead over Gingrich

Did Rick Santorum make a mistake in campaigning in New Hampshire?  In the past week since Mitt Romney won the first-in-the-nation primary overwhelmingly and Santorum finished in a virtual tie for fourth place with Newt Gingrich, Romney’s numbers in the latest Rasmussen poll for South Carolina look pretty much the same as … the previous Rasmussen poll in the state.  However, Santorum has dropped considerably in the past week, and Newt Gingrich has moved into second place:

Mitt Romney still holds first place in the South Carolina Primary field, while his opponents jockey for second with the voting eight days away.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Republican Primary Voters in South Carolina finds Romney ahead with 28% support, but now former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is in second place with 21% of the vote.  Support for former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum who was in second a week ago has fallen back to 16%, putting him dead even with Texas Congressman Ron Paul who also earns 16%.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose continued candidacy likely depends on the Jan. 21 South Carolina vote, now captures six percent (6%) support, while former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman runs last with five percent (5%). One percent (1%) like some other candidate in the race, and eight percent (8%) remain undecided.

Santorum lost eight points in a week while slogging through a predictably unsympathetic New Hampshire.  Santorum and his team insisted that credible candidates had to campaign in the Granite state in order to be taken seriously elsewhere, which is … probably true.  Skipping New Hampshire to focus on South Carolina hasn’t done anything to help Rick Perry, who only ticked up a single point from 5%, but whose campaign had bigger credibility issues anyway.  Still, one wonders whether Santorum might have been able to hold onto the momentum created from his virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses had he stayed on the ground in South Carolina, even if 16% and third place tie with Ron Paul isn’t a bad spot to be with a week left to go.

Gingrich only gained three points in the week, within the margin of error, which doesn’t denote verifiable momentum but does show that he may have scored a few points with his Bain attacks.  He’s now first among Tea Party voters at 26% with Romney falling to fourth at 16%, but the attacks don’t appear to have helped much where they’re clearly aimed, with working-class voters.  Gingrich is far back of Romney among voters earning under $20K (29/14 in 4th place), $20-40K (26/19 in 3rd place), and $40-60K (27/19 in 3rd place).  The only income demo Gingrich wins is $60-75K, 26/23 over Romney, who wins all the other income demos.

Gingrich is also losing the favorability contest (56/43), and rather badly in terms of negatives, to Romney (68/29) and Santorum (63/30). Perry is far back at 48/48 and only 53/43 among Republicans in this open primary.  Paul scores even worse, with an underwater 43/55 and only 36/61 among Republicans.  The sampling in this poll was 71/29 Republicans to independents, which may overstate just a little how many independents plan to vote a week from Saturday.  In 2008, independents accounted for less than 20% of the vote, but the Democratic primary was much more meaningful as well.

Santorum has more of an upside in this race than any of the other conservative consolidation candidates, especially since Gingrich is now taking so much fire for his fact-challenged attacks on Bain and Romney.  I wouldn’t be surprised over the next week to see Santorum rise into second place and perhaps challenge Romney for the lead again, but it will take a lot of effort and perhaps an uncharacteristic misstep from the frontrunner for that to happen.