Today brought three new South Carolina polls:
Romney leads 37 to 19 for Santorum and 18 for Gingrich in this CNN/Time poll.
Romney leads 31 to 24 for Santorum and 24 for Gingrich in this ARG poll.
And Romney leads 27 to 24 for Santorum and 18 for Gingrich in this Rasmussen poll.
The numbers jump around, but they all point overwhelmingly to the same conclusion: The only way Romney is going to lose South Carolina—and therefore earn himself a bona fide fight—is if the Santorum-Gingrich vote gets consolidated. The two men’s combined support either equals or far surpasses Romney’s in each poll.
Now, given their respective performances in Iowa, it’s pretty unlikely that Gingrich is going to peel away Santorum’s supporters. But Santorum could certainly peel away Gingrich’s. The way he does that is by finishing firmly ahead of the other non-Romney candidates in New Hampshire.
Romney isn’t going to get a boost out of New Hampshire regardless of his margin of victory there, since he’s the frontrunner and basically lives in the state. But Santorum will definitely get a boost if he exceeds expectations and firmly establishes himself as the Romney alternative.
If, on the other hand, Santorum can't separate himself from Gingrich or Huntsman in New Hampshire, it's game over in South Carolina, both for him and everyone else not named Mitt.
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