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Gingrich takes big lead in S.C. polls

Newt Gingrich is the new anti-Romney, soaring past the former Massachusetts governor and perennial presidential front-runner by 17 percentage points in a new poll of likely S.C. Republican primary voters

Gingrich, a Georgia Republican former Speaker of the House of Representatives, leads all candidates with 38.4 percent of the vote, according to a poll released Tuesday from Winthrop University. Romney is second with 21.5 percent: and those are the only two candidates in double digits.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the one time S.C. favorite, was third with 9 percent. Herman Cain, who dropped out of the race last week, with 6.6 percent.

Nine percent are still undecided.

The poll was conducted between Nov. 27 and Dec. 4 and included responses from 1,073 registered voters in South Carolina. The margin or error among likely S.C. Republican primary voters is 5.38 percent.

Romney has consistently scored in the top two of every poll this election cycle. But he usually shares billing with a surging candidate, demonstrating the desire of a large portion of Republicans who are desperately trying to find someone else.

No one thought it would be Gingrich. He was left for dead during the summer, when most of his staff -- including Katon Dawson, his S.C. campaign manager, resigned. Most of his S.C. staff flocked to Perry’s camp, who enjoyed similar gaudy numbers early on in the campaign. But a series of gaffes during some nationally televised debates have devastated Perry’s campaign, knocking him down in the polls.

Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, was there to take Perry’s place, enjoying a month of leading poll numbers. But his campaign was sunk by allegations of sexual harassment from three women, plus a fourth who claimed she had a 13-year affair with Cain. Those events led Cain to drop out of the race Saturday.

In addition to South Carolina, Gingrich has opened up a commanding lead over Romney in Iowa, whose Jan. 3 caucuses will be the first test of organizational strength for the surging candidate. A poll from the De Moines Register shows Gingrich with 25 percent support, followed by U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with 18 percent and Romney with 15 percent.

The South Carolina Republican presidential primary is Jan. 21.

Other poll findings include:

Among S.C. Republicans, 83.3 percent said they were not a member of the Tea Party, up from 63 percent in a similar poll in September. Sixty-one percent said they approve of the Tea Party.

South Carolinians are split on President Barack Obama, with 47.8 percent disapproving his job performance and 44.8 percent approving of his job performance. Six percent was not sure, while 1 percent refused to answer the question. The margin of error for that question was 2.99 percent.

But South Carolinians are united in their disdain for Congress, with 81.4 percent disapproving. Only 12.1 percent approved of Congress, while 5.9 percent were undecided.

A majority -- 65.7 percent -- said the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction, while 22.3 percent said it is on the “right track.” Eleven percent were undecided.

While the country is suffering, South Carolinians were split on the future of the Palmetto State. Forty-three percent said South Carolina was headed in the wrong direction, while 41 percent said it was on the right track. Fifteen percent were undecided.

South Carolinains were united in their diagnosis of S.C.’s problems, with Republicans, Democrats and independents agreeing the state’s most pressing issue is unemployment, followed by the economy and education.

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