A new poll suggests that US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s rivals could have difficulty stopping his drive to win the Republican Party’s nomination as US President Barack Obama’s challenger in the November election.
The Time/CNN/ORC poll released on Friday showed Romney soaring into the lead in South Carolina, where Republicans will hold their third nominating contest on Jan. 21.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, on Tuesday narrowly won the party’s first contest, the Iowa caucuses. His rivals have all but conceded that Romney will win Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, even though they will have opportunities to try to slow his momentum during two debates this weekend.
Romney would be difficult to stop if he manages to sweep the first three contests. A victory in South Carolina would be huge for him. It is a conservative state and Romney has struggled to win over Republicans who view him as too moderate. Romney underscored the state’s importance by leaving New Hampshire to campaign there on Thursday and Friday.
The new poll indicates that Romney has received a boost from his Iowa win and with conservatives unable to rally around an anti-Romney alternative.
It showed Romney with 37 percent support in the state, a 17-point gain since early December. Former US Senator Rick Santorum, who almost tied Romney in Iowa, was at 19 percent, a 15 point surge. That put him in a statistical tie with former US House House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich, who had plummeted from 43 percent support.
Romney has cast himself as the candidate best-positioned to take on Obama, whose prospects for re-election have been hurt by the US’ slow recovery from a recession.
However, Obama got a boost on Friday, when the government reported the creation of 200,000 new jobs last month.
Romney, Santorum and Gingrich shared a debate stage last night and again this morning with the other three surviving contenders, US Representative Ron Paul, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Utah governor and US ambassador Jon Huntsman.
Ordinarily, the week between lead-off Iowa and New Hampshire is one of the most intense of the entire president campaign. That has not been as true this year in New Hampshire, given Romney’s four years as governor of next-door Massachusetts, his numerous campaign trips here and the reaffirming victory in Iowa.
With only three days remaining until the first-in-the-nation primary, TV advertising was relatively modest, with Paul, Romney and a committee supporting Huntsman the only entities spending significant sums.
Gingrich has been talking of merely holding Romney’s winning total under 50 percent in New Hampshire, and Paul, arriving in the state on Friday, focused his criticism on Santorum.
“He brags about being for a balanced budget amendment, but never did anything about it,” Paul said of Santorum’s time in the US Senate.
Campaigning in Concord, Huntsman was asked whether the other candidates had “clawed their way to the right,” leaving him as the centrist in the race.
He called himself a realist.
Meanwhile, Perry unveiled a new commercial for stations in South Carolina, as did a group that backs Santorum.
Perry’s ad stresses his upbringing as the son of tenant farmers and mentions his time as a pilot in the US Air Force, years working on the family farm with his father and his marriage to his high school sweetheart.