Mitt Romney opens a major lead in South Carolina

Holly Bailey
January 6, 2012

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire—Until recently, Mitt Romney had invested little time or effort in South Carolina, focusing instead on states like New Hampshire and Florida in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. But it may not matter.

A new CNN/Time Magazine poll of likely Republican voters in the state finds the former Massachusetts governor with a nearly 20-point lead over his closest rival, Rick Santorum. According to the poll, Romney now leads in the state with 37 percent support, a 17-point jump since last month.

That's a major boost for Romney, who until recently had just three staffers in the state. But Romney has been picking up steam: Last month, he garnered the endorsement of Gov. Nikki Haley, and some of his former consultants--including Warren Tompkins, one of the state's most prominent GOP strategists--have rejoined Romney's campaign in recent days.

If Romney wins New Hampshire—and judging by the polls here, he's in good shape—a victory in South Carolina would make the ex-governor very hard to beat heading into rest of the primaries. But Romney's rivals won't make it easy.

Rick Perry has signaled he'll compete aggressively in the state, as has Newt Gingrich. But the open question is whether GOP voters in South Carolina and across the national are starting to view Romney as the inevitable nominee. Today's poll suggests they might be.

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