Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has gained popularity in South Carolina in recent days and is now in a dead heat with Mitt Romney in the Palmetto state, according to a new poll.
Gingrich leads in the latest American Research Group (ARG) poll, conducted January 17-18, with 33 percent. Romney finishes close behind with 32 percent, while Rep. Ron Paul is in third with 19 percent. Former Sen. Rick Santorum earned 9 percent support.
Romney heads into South Carolina's January 21 primary as the clear frontrunner after virtually tying for first place in the Iowa caucuses and finishing first in the New Hampshire primaries. He also has a clear lead among Republican primary voters nationwide, according to the latest.
However, Gingrich appears to be, and today he of Rick Perry when the Texas governor announced he was dropping his own presidential bid. Perry garnered 4 percent in the ARG poll, and if his support shifts to Gingrich, it could be enough to give him a solid lead.
In a South Carolina ARG poll conducted January 11-12, Romney was leading Gingrich 29 percent to 25 percent. Gingrich's rise in the poll can in part be attributed to Tea Party supporters -- 28 percent backed Gingrich in the earlier poll, while 43 percent support him now.
In addition to Romney's attacks, Gingrich will have to overcome any doubts voters may have about his character, particularly since his second wife, Marianne Gingrich, charged in an interview with ABC News that the GOP presidential candidate wanted an "."
In a new Politico/Tarrance Group poll of likely South Carolina Republican voters released today, 24 percent called "honesty and personal integrity" the quality they considered most important in a candidate. Just 18 percent said "fiscally and socially conservative" was the most important. In the poll, 66 percent identified themselves as born-again, evangelical Christians. And 80 percent said they attend church at least once a month.