Days before SC primary, new poll shows Romney in front

WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ (WCSC) - With wins in the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary and with the South Carolina Primary just four days away, Mitt Romney continues to emerge as the frontrunner, according to a Monmouth University poll released Tuesday.

The former Massachusetts governor registers 33 percent support in the poll among likely Republican voters in Saturday's SC primary. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich places second at 22 percent.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum finished with 14 percent in the poll and Texas Congressman Ron Paul had 12 percent. Texas Gov. Rick Perry trails with 6 percent. Jon Huntsman earned 4 percent before he pulled out of the race Monday.

Gingrich (30 percent) finished best in the poll among those who call themselves very conservative, leading both Romney (25 percent) and Santorum (21 percent).

Romney finished strong among voters who see themselves as somewhat conservative (39 percent) and moderate or liberal (38 percent). Gingrich also does well among those who say they strongly support the Tea Party movement.

Evangelical Christians, making up a majority of likely GOP voters in SC, have been considered a weak group for Romney, according to the conductors of the poll. Romney appears to be holding his own, though, earning 29 percent of this group's vote compared to 26 percent for Gingrich and 19 percent for Santorum.

"Governor Romney appears to be consolidating his status as the one to beat. While he doesn't enjoy an outright majority, he performs well with every major voting bloc possibly because the field is still crowded," said Patrick Murray, director of the non-partisan Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey.

The poll also asked likely SC GOP primary voters which factor is more important in their decision – voting for someone who shares their values or someone who can defeat President Barack Obama. More voters choose values (51 percent) over electability (43 percent).

Nearly all voters in the poll were aware that SC Gov. Nikki Haley has endorsed Romney, but it's unlikely to sway anyone at this point. Most said her endorsement makes no difference to their vote.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone with 963 likely SC Republican primary voters from Jan. 12 to 15. This sample has a margin of error of + 3.2 percent.

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