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January 10, 2008

McCain Gets A Bounce In South Carolina

Rasmussen has a new poll out showing a dramatic shift in the Republican race in a crucial state. John McCain has taken a narrow three-point lead over Mike Huckabee. Prior to his win in New Hampshire, McCain had trailed Huckabee by seven (via Memeorandum):

Arizona Senator John McCain, fresh from his victory in New Hampshire, has taken a narrow three-point lead over former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee in the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary. The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey shows McCain at 27% and Huckabee at 24%.

That’s a significant change since last Sunday. Just before the New Hampshire vote, Huckabee was leading McCain 28% to 21%. In mid-December, Huckabee and Romney were tied for the lead with 23% of the vote while McCain was well off the pace at 12%.

The current survey finds Mitt Romney running a distant third at 16%, little changed since the previous survey. Huckabee, McCain, and Romney are currently leading the GOP race nationally in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

Fred Thompson, a candidate who is staking his campaign on a strong showing in South Carolina, is close behind Romney at 12%. As recently as November, Thompson was tied for the lead in South Carolina.

As this rapid change shows, the situation remains fluid in South Carolina. Only 57% feel firm in their current choice, which means that these numbers will likely change significantly over the next ten days until the primary. Rasmussen seems intent on mentioning that in light of what happened in New Hampshire with the Democratic polling. Interestingly, even though Thompson has declined in the polling, his support is the most firm of all Republicans.

If the numbers hold up for McCain -- a big if -- it spells trouble for Huckabee and it's a death knell for Thompson. Romney and Giuliani have chosen to offer only minimal involvement in South Carolina, but Huckabee counted on winning in the South as an antidote to the Northern strength of McCain, Giuliani, and Romney. Huckabee still has steam from his Iowa win, but a second early victory would have provided him with excellent momentum for February 5th.

McCain could win in Michigan on Tuesday, especially with the extensive crossover voting likely from Democrats and independents expected. If he wins South Carolina as well, and if Giuliani wins Florida as expected the following week, that's the two-man race for Super Tuesday. Giuliani's national reach (and money) and McCain's momentum will push all other candidates to the background. It will have a clarifying effect on the voters going to the polls in 22 states, and it might be the end of the brokered-convention threat.

Huckabee needs South Carolina, and Fred Thompson has to win it or withdraw. Romney needs Michigan to generate some credibility. Giuliani has to win Florida. Right now, all McCain has to do to keep increasing his momentum is to win one of these. It's an enviable position for a candidate whom the chattering class dismissed in July.

NOTE: Fred Thompson supporters are organizing another blogburst. Rick Moran has more on this effort. They need to work fast to rebuild his support in South Carolina and his national credibility.


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