Mike Huckabee and a surprisingly strong Mitt Romney are the leading candidates in the South Carolina 2012 GOP primary according to a new ARG poll released today. Huckabee leads Romney by a scant 2%, in a state many pundits view as a must-win for the Fox News star should he consider another run in 2012. Huck leads overall with 20%, Romney is second at 18%. With a margin of error of 4%, the state is a "jump ball" between the former 2008 GOP rivals. Media stars Donald Trump and Sarah Palin round out the top four spots, with 13% and 10% respectively.
Huckabee gains the most support from Republicans overall and those identified at Tea Party supporters, placing first with 23% and 18% with each group. Romney runs second with the GOP at 16% and third with the Tea Party at 12%. Trump scores second with the Tea Party – at 16%, which drives his overalll GOP score. Palin's support is steady at 10% accross all groups.
South Carolina is not currently viewed as being a strong state for Romney in 2012. The state, with a strong Evangelical base, is considered by many to be a Huckabee strong hold. With fellow Sothern Governor, Mississippi’s Haley Barbour considering a run, the Palmetto State was not being looked at as fertile ground for Romney. However, the ARG poll shows Romney running very competitively across the board and Barbour posting a soggy 2% level of support overall. Palin was at one time thought to be a strong player in South Carolina, with a high percentage of residents being military veterans and armed services families. Her performance in this poll reflects a significant decline in support she has also seen on the nation level.
Romney does extremely well with Independent voters and those who are definitely going to vote. South Carolina has an open primary and Romney garners 26% of the Indie voters to Huckabee’s 11%. Both men are tied with those who are definite to vote at 19%. Of those who will probably vote, Huckabee leads Romney 25% to 16%.
While polls this early in the election cycle are subject to wild fluctuations, today’s numbers do poke holes in the “conventional wisdom” the South is Huckabee territory where Romney can’t run. Clearly, as in the recent numbers from Iowa, Mitt Romney is running a lot stronger than assumed.