Mitt Romney's taken a modest lead in South Carolina. He's at 30% there to 23% for Newt Gingrich and 19% for Rick Santorum. None of the other candidates hit double digits- Ron Paul at 9%, Rick Perry at 5%, Jon Huntsman at 4%, and Buddy Roemer at 1% round out the field.
Romney's benefiting from very strong personal favorability numbers in the state- 60% of voters see him favorably to only 29% with a negative opinion, numbers that far outstrip anything he ever posted in our Iowa polling. And he also has the most committed support out of the leading contenders. 67% of his supporters say they'll definitely vote for him, compared to only 59% of Gingrich and 44% of Santorum's voters who say that. Among 'solidly committed' voters Romney's lead expands to double digits at 37% to 26% for Gingrich and 15% for Santorum.
Gingrich may be in second place right now but the candidate who would have the best chance of beating Romney in South Carolina is Santorum. He edges out Romney as the candidate with the best favorability rating at 63/21. We tested hypothetical head to head match ups between Romney and the other leading Republican candidates in the instance that were some drop outs before the primary. Romney defeats Gingrich handily in such a match, 49-35. But Santorum runs only slightly behind Romney at 45-40.
There are two things that taken together might make it possible for Santorum to upset Romney in South Carolina. The first is both Gingrich and Perry dropping out. Gingrich's voters prefer Santorum over Romney 52-37 and Perry's do by a 54-41 margin. Either of them dropping out would give Santorum a big boost.
The other thing that would give Santorum the potential for an upset is a Jim DeMint endorsement. 31% of voters say his nod would make them more likely to vote for a candidate. That compares to 15% for Lindsey Graham, 14% for Nikki Haley, 13% for Mark Sanford, and 11% for John McCain. There's no doubt who has the greatest potential to be a king maker in the Palmetto State.