Mitt Romney storms to big lead in South Carolina as Rick Santorum stalks

A new poll in South Carolina shows former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney opening up a big lead, but former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is catching on quickly in the Palmetto State.

The CNN//Time/Opinion Research poll shows Romney at 37 percent followed by Santorum at 19 percent and former House speaker Newt Gingrich at 18 percent.

That’s a huge change from a month ago, when Gingrich led Romney 43 percent to 20 percent in South Carolina and Santorum was at just 4 percent.

Rounding out the poll are Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 12 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 5 percent and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman at 1 percent.

The CNN/Time poll suggests a post-New Hampshire race shaping up between the establishment candidate (Romney) and the conservative favorite (Santorum).

Of course, Santorum’s rise appears to be attributable almost wholly to his strong second-place showing in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday. A full-scale review of his record has begun and will determine what kind of staying power he has in the top-tier.

South Carolina’s primary will be held Jan. 21, 11 days after Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, in which Romney is the prohibitive favorite.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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