The first significant poll of South Carolina voters following his narrow Iowa caucuses win has Mitt Romney bursting into a surprisingly strong lead, suggesting that the race for the Republican presidential nomination could be over sooner rather than later.
The CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corp. poll puts Romney at 37 percent of those surveyed with the former Massachusetts governor doing relatively well with several different types of likely Republican and independent primary voters.
Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich's support has fallen out of bed, according to the poll. He is now at 18 percent compared with 43 percent in early December. Rick Santorum is at 19 percent compared with just four percent last month.
The survey, which has a margin of error of 4.5 percent, also suggested there are a large number of voters who say they could still be persuaded to vote for another candidate — 49 percent.
With the Palmetto State primary a little more than a week away and Romney surging, and Santorum appearing to be the latest challenge to Romney getting the nomination, the textbook strategy for Romney would be to continue to play it cautiously while his surrogates train their attacks on the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.
If Romney wins South Carolina, he will have history on his side since the state has correctly chosen the GOP presidential nominee ever since Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas was at 12 percent in the latest poll which was interesting since he was only at six percent in December.
There was nothing in the poll to help explain Texas Gov. Rick Perry's decision to remain in the race through South Carolina. He was at 5 percent which, given the margin of error, was practically unchanged from the 8 percent support he had in December.