Romney surges in South Carolina poll, has nearly double the support of runner up Santorum

Mitt Romney beats Rick Santorum by 8 votes in Iowa Getty Images

Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum
Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum
Getty Images

Support for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has surged in the past month in South Carolina, leaving him almost double the support of his closest opponent ahead of the primary there on January 21.

Romney garnered about 37 percent of support of likely South Carolina voters in a poll conducted this week by CNN/Time/ORC, compared to about 19 percent for the runner-up, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Romney won a squeaker over Santorum in the non-binding Iowa caucuses January 3, setting himself up to be the first Republican non-incumbent president to win both Iowa and New Hampshire since the modern caucus system was created in 1976. Romney is widely expected to win New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first primary on Tuesday, where he owns a vacation home.

If Romney wins in South Carolina, many analysts expect many of his rivals to end their bids for the presidency, leaving Romney nearly alone to collect the needed delegates for his nomination over the ensuing weeks.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took 18 percent in the CNN/Time/ORC poll, compared to 43 percent support in the same poll a month earlier. Romney had just 20 percent support a month ago.

Santorum's support has also multiplied in the Palmetto state after his impressive finish in Iowa, where he was just eight votes short of Romney. In December, Santorum had just 4 percent support in South Carolina.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul took 12 percent, double his 6 percent support a month earlier. Texas Gov. Rick Perry fell to 5 percent from 8 percent in early December, while former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman remained at 1 percent.

While the support is not ironclad, it is firming up. About 49 percent of respondents said they might change their mind before the voting takes place, compared to 55 percent a month ago. Around 44 percent said they had now made up their mind, compared to 34 percent who were decided in early December.

The CNN/Time/ORC poll of 485 likely voters was conducted January 4-5, 2012 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

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    CBSNews.com Deputy Politics Editor Corbett B. Daly is based in Washington. He has worked at Reuters, Thomson Financial News and CBS MarketWatch.

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