South Carolina debate: Gingrich and Romney face each other - and their baggage
Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are very close in South Carolina polling. Going into Thursday night's four-man debate, the two front-runners each have new personal issues facing them.
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At first glance, Gingrich would seem to have the momentum in his fierce relationship with Romney.Skip to next paragraph
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Romney’s 18-point lead over Gingrich in South Carolina from earlier this month has dropped to 10 percent, according to a new CNN/Time/Opinion Research poll – down four points for Romney, up five points for Gingrich.
“Gingrich’s standing-O debate performance on Monday night in Myrtle Beach, hailed by national and state activists as a pitch-perfect defense of conservatism, may have moved the needle even further,” writes Adam Sorensen at Time’s “Swampland” political site. “A flash poll taken Tuesday night by Rasmussen found Gingrich pulling within three points of Romney.”
“Among Republican primary voters nationwide, 34 percent think Romney is the GOP candidate who would do a better job managing the economy, but almost as many (29 percent) feel Gingrich would do the better job,” Rasmussen reported Wednesday. “When it comes to national security and defense, Gingrich is the clear leader: 43 percent think he would do a better job versus 18 percent who say the same of Romney.”
The Real Clear Politics average of most recent polls has Romney ahead by just 1.2 percentage points in South Carolina. Two other polls – American Research Group and InsiderAdvantage – put Gingrich ahead by a nose.
But apparent momentum in recent polling snapshots isn’t everything, some experts say.
Political scientists Lynn Vavreck, of UCLA, and John Sides, of George Washington University, note that Romney’s position among the Republican electorate – generally, a less-than-overwhelming 25 percent or so – actually is good within a crowded field of what until very recently had been seven candidates.
More Republicans pick Romney as their second choice than any other candidate. And when voters are asked to choose between just two GOP candidates – Romney and Gingrich – a solid majority (66 to 34 percent) pick Romney, according to the YouGov research organization that professors Vavreck and Sides write for.
It’s always possible that one of the remaining candidates could have an “Oops!” moment in Thursday night’s debate. Rick Perry’s was probably the beginning of the end for him.
Absent that, the contest between Romney and Gingrich is likely to remain very, very close when South Carolinians go to the polls this Saturday.
Watch this video on key issues on the minds of social conservative or values voters in South Carolina.
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