The latest Insider Advantage / Newsmax poll of likely South Carolina voters, taken on Sunday, shows Mitt Romney opening up a commanding 11-point lead… and that was before Jon Huntsman dropped out of the race and endorsed Romney. Hell, Huntsman’s still a point ahead of Rick Perry in this poll.
Mitt Romney – 32
Newt Gingrich – 21
Ron Paul – 14
Rick Santorum – 13
Jon Huntsman – 6
Rick Perry – 5
Strangely, according to the poll breakdown, Newt Gingrich scored exactly zero among the youngest cohort of voters, ages 18-29. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were tied among that group, with 27 percent each.
This poll has a fairly small sample of 720 respondents, but they’re “likely voters,” generally the most reliable group. If the results are accurate, it looks as if that “tightening race” in South Carolina has loosened back up, and undecided voters are starting to break for Romney. If Huntsman’s endorsement sends some of his supporters Romney’s way, and he holds the enormous 22-point lead Rasmussen found for him in Florida last week, Romney could end up taking both states in a walk.
Rick Perry, incidentally, was behind Huntsman in Florida too… gathering a mere 2 percent to Huntsman’s 5 percent in the Rasmussen poll. It’s increasingly difficult to see a reason for his campaign to continue. He clearly isn’t going to be the one to rally conservative opposition to Romney. Then again, nobody else appears capable of doing that, either.
Ron Paul’s going all the way to the convention, and Huntsman endorsed Romney on his way out the door, so the only strategic move that looks like it would have much chance of changing the game would be for Santorum to drop out and endorse Gingrich. It’s probably too late for such an unlikely maneuver to make much of a difference in South Carolina – although some other, older polls do have Gingrich much closer to Romney – but it could tip Florida into the Gingrich column. (This is by no means certain, since a lot of Santorum’s values voters have serious reservations about Gingrich, and the former Speaker would have to pick up the majority of Huntsman and Perry supporters to erase that 22-point Romney lead… a task that will become much more difficult if Romney scores a big win in South Carolina.)
This really needs to become a three-man race quickly, if the GOP wants a viable alternative to Mitt Romney.