Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney accomplished something big in the first two primary states — he was the first GOP candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. That set the narrative totally toward a Romney roll: He moved up in the polls at the next stop in the process, South Carolina, and with a huge fundraising quarter it very much looked like Mr. Inevitable was, well, inevitable.
And then the campaigning down south started.
The TPM Poll Average of the race shows that Romney had a ten point lead in the week after his Iowa win and expected victory in New Hampshire. When the campaign moved to South Carolina, and the circular firing squad over Romney’s tenure as CEO of Bain Capital began, he started dropping while the chief Bain critic, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has bounced back in the state. Now new Public Policy Polling (D) numbers out Friday show Romney in the lead with 29 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 24, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) with 15 and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum at 14. The rest of the field is in single digits.
Now Romney has a mere 4.7 percent lead in our numbers, seen below (zoom by clicking and dragging to get a clearer picture of that last few weeks.)
Gingrich was already starting from a decent position in South Carolina — he was the leader by huge margins during his surge at the beginning of December and bottomed out in the high teens upon his fourth place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. But he and pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future have gone full bore into Romney on his role at Bain, pushing the message that Romney enriched himself while laying off workers, focusing specifically on the company’s role in the manufacturing sector. The message that seems to be playing well in SC, a state which has had plenty of factory closures over the past few decades.
For his part, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has fallen back to the mid teens, well behind Romney and Gingrich. Santorum has been attempting to bring social conservatives in the state together, but Public Policy Polling (D) data from the last two weeks has showed that evangelical voters are split nearly evenly among Romney, Gingrich and Santourm. PPP also showed that only four percent of voters said social concerns were top for them, which seems to show why economic messages have the reach punch this cycle, overshadowing more traditional plays for religious conservative voters in the GOP primaries.
As TPM has reported, the Republican establishment seems quite interested in pulling back the intraparty attacks on Romney’s Bain record, and it seems they have good reason — in just a few short days it’s made a dent in Romney’s numbers, suggesting what many pollsters have argued about his support: It’s soft.
The underscore that point, the PPP data had a simple point. The firm asked Republican voters “Generally speaking, would you like the Republican nominee for President to be Mitt Romney or someone else?” 34 percent said they were for Romney. A majority of 58 percent said someone else.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.