Newt Gingrich is closing in fast on Mitt Romney just three days before the vital South Carolina primary, two separate polls released on Wednesday show.
Gingrich has cut the former Massachusetts governor’s lead in half in the Palmetto State in just a matter of days according to a CCN/Time magazine survey.
And a national poll released by Rasmussen Reports has the former House Speaker within three points –within the margin of error.
Gingrich was elated by the news from South Carolina. He told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “By Saturday we’ll be ahead and depending on how many conservatives come home, we could be ahead by a pretty comfortable margin.”
The CNN poll was largely conducted before Monday’s candidates’ debate in which Gingrich was almost universally seen as having put in a strong performance. That was in contrast to Romney, who was forced on the defensive and came out floundering on issues ranging from the release of his tax returns to whether convicted felons should have the right to vote once they have served their sentences.
And Gingrich’s momentum has continued as Romney has been ridiculed for characterizing speaker’s fees of more than $370,000 that he received in one year as amounting to “not very much,” while former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin urged South Carolinians to vote for Gingrich to keep the primary process going.
Now all eyes will be on Thursday night’s debate in North Charleston, S.C. when Gingrich will again try to use his rhetorical skills to catch his principal rival.
The CNN poll put Gingrich at 23 percent among people likely to vote in Saturday’s primary. That puts him 10 percentage points behind Romney. Just two weeks ago a similar poll gave Romney a 19 point lead.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum sat at 16 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul was at 13 percent and Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 6 percent.
"Gingrich appears to be the only candidate with momentum as the race in South Carolina enters the final few days," CNN polling director Keating Holland said. He said support for Romney and Santorum appeared to be slipping while the two Texans were holding steady.
"All of Gingrich's increased support comes among tea party movement supporters, where he's at 31 percent support, up 10 points from early January," added Holland. "That suggests that Sarah Palin's remarks urging South Carolina voters to choose Gingrich may have a receptive audience."
The winner of the South Carolina Republican primary, the first in the south, has gone on to win the GOP nomination every year since 1980, and Gingrich has already said that if Romney wins it would mean the contest is more or less over.
The stakes are so high that the TV viewers in the state have been bombarded with non-stop ads from candidates and their super PACs.
The national news from the Rasmussen poll was even better for Gingrich. It put Romney on 30 percent with Gingrich on 27 percent. As the survey had a 3 point margin of error that could mean that the two are in a statistical dead heat.
“The story in the new numbers, taken Tuesday night, is Gingrich’s jump 11 points from 16 percent two weeks ago,” said Rasmussen. Just as in the CNN poll his extra support has come at the expense of Romney and Santorum, while Perry and Paul are unchanged.
“This suggests that many voters are still looking for an alternative to Romney and currently see Gingrich as that candidate,” said Rasmussen.
However Gingrich is not doing so well in Florida, the state where the next primary will be held on Jan. 31. There Romney leads with 43 percent followed by Santorum on 19 percent, Gingrich on 18, Paul on 9 and Perry on 2.
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