ATLANTA -- The seesaw Republican primary has tipped again in a poll conducted Wednesday night, giving Newt Gingrich the lead in the South Carolina primary.
Gingrich reversed the momentum of Mitt Romney who had an expanding lead in the same poll Sunday night.
Gingrich’s 32 percent to Romney’s 29 puts the two inside the poll’s 3.8 percent margin of error, but the 11-point lead Romney held in the Sunday evening survey has evaporated. And Romney’s strength had been building after wins in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
The polls were conducted by InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion Research. Wednesday’s was conducted for the Augusta Chronicle and the Savannah Morning News of 718 registered voters who said they were voting in Saturday’s GOP primary.
Ron Paul is in third place with 15 percent, followed by Rick Santorum’s 11 and Rick Perry’s 3. Seven percent remain undecided and are unlikely to vote while 3 percent favor some other candidate not listed as a choice.
Gingrich, who represented neighboring Georgia in Congress for two decades and rose to become House speaker, took support from Santorum and Perry to pass Romney, according to pollster Matt Towery, InsiderAdvantage CEO. Gingrich captured the lead, Towery said, through his performance in Monday night’s televised debate that included a standing ovation from the live audience in response to his defense of conservatism.
“To come back this much, this quickly, is the debates,” Towery said.
The candidates debate again Thursday night, which will give Gingrich a chance to cement his lead and Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, to redeem himself.
The demographic breakdown of Wednesday’s poll results show Gingrich not only doing well with male voters and those who declare themselves to be Republicans, groups that have traditionally backed him, but he is also even with Romney with female voters and has captured the support of independents.
“His biggest weakness are voters who are 30-44 who are overwhelmingly for Romney,” Towery said. “They don’t know anything about Gingrich. They don’t know what he’s achieved, so they’re voting against him.”
A CNN poll released earlier Wednesday was conducted between Friday and Tuesday. Even it showed Romney’s lead disappearing despite the fact that most respondents had not yet seen Monday’s debate. In that survey, Romney and Santorum were losing ground while Gingrich was gaining it.
Leaders of national conservative groups hoping to defeat Romney for being too moderate for their taste agreed over the weekend to back Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania. Apparently South Carolina conservatives have decided to coalesce behind Gingrich instead.
A super PAC supporting Gingrich is running ads stressing his debating skills as proof he is more likely to defeat Barack Obama in November than Romney is. Monday’s debate performance by Gingrich apparently drove that point home for many conservatives eager to retake the White House but wondering which candidate is best able.
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