Posted at 06:38 AM ET, 12/06/2011

Gingrich has strong lead over Romney in South Carolina

Newt Gingrich has a commanding lead over Mitt Romney in South Carolina, according to a new poll, results that come as the former Georgia Congressman has gained momentum in other key early states.


Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is polling ahead of his rivals in Iowa and South Carolina. (Craig Ruttle - AP)

The Winthrop University poll results, based on interviews with more than 1,000 registered voters in the Palmetto state, show Gingrich grabbing 38 percent of the vote and Mitt Romney lagging by double digits at 22 percent.

In Iowa, a new Washington Post/ABC shows Gingrich with a strong lead over Romney as well--Gingrich has the backing of 33 percent of Republicans with Romney and Ron Paul tied at 18 percent.

In South Carolina, where Republican voters go to the polls on Jan. 21, Gingrich has vaulted ahead of his rivals, gaining 33 points since September. The dramatic shift results in part from the collapse of Herman Cain, who suspended his campaign Saturday and drew just 7 percent support in the poll.

Rick Perry, whose campaign also has nose-dived, got 9 percent of the vote.

Gingrich has shown strength in early polls in Florida too, which means that even as his organization struggles to master a ground game, he has momentum among voters who have yet to show overwhelming support for Romney.

The South Carolina polls show two other trends--the declining popularity of the tea party movement and the centrality of economic issues over social issues.

According to the poll:

Among Republicans, 83.3 percent said they did not consider themselves members of the tea party movement, a considerable increase from the September poll, when 67.8 percent felt that way.

Meanwhile, while 61.4 percent say they approve of the tea party, almost 25 percent of Republicans said they were not familiar enough with the party to have any opinion at all.

Asked to name the three most important issues facing the country, likely Republican voters in South Carolina listed the economy, unemployment and the deficit.

Historically, the winner of the South Carolina primary has gone on to win the Republican nomination. So far, Gingrich has the biggest footprint in the state, with five offices and nine staffers.

By  |  06:38 AM ET, 12/06/2011

 
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