Winthrop poll shows SC's eyes are on Newt Gingrich

COLUMBIA (WACH)- A new presidential primary poll shows Republican candidate Newt Gingrich as the new favorite among South Carolina voters.

According to the latest Winthrop University Poll, Newt Gingrich gets the nod 38.4 percent to Mitt Romney's 21.5 percent among potential voters in the 2012 South Carolina GOP presidential primary.

This marks a dramatic jump from the September 2011 Winthrop Poll when Gingrich won just 5.3 percent of the vote. Mitt Romney came in second with 21.5 percent, while Rick Perry who placed first in the Winthrop Poll in mid-September, came in third with 9 percent. Roughly 1,100 registered South Carolina voters were surveyed between November 27-December 4.

"Mitt Romney has steady support there in second place. What we see is a rotating cast of characters who are playing the role of not Mitt Romney,"said Winthrop University's Scott Huffmon. "The real question is can Newt keep these voters as true Newt supporters or is this just the latest not Mitt Romney phenomenon?"

The Winthrop findings show that accusations of sexual harassment and an extra-marital affair had already taken a toll on Herman Cain in South Carolina before he suspended his campaign this past weekend. In September TMs poll, 7.7 percent of likely primary voters chose Cain.

Observers say Gingrich has been able to capitalize on his opponent's mistakes and surge to the top of the polls. Several months ago, Gingrich campaign staffers were walking out on him to join other campaigns and he was registering single digits in the polls among potential South Carolina voters.

"The other candidates made their mis-steps and he's kind of like the last man standing in terms of the more conservative alternative to Romney," said USC political scientist Bob Oldendick of Gingrich. "I think this is one of those things where it's not likely the flavor of the month. I think he has more staying power than that just because the other candidates were less well known and hadn't been on the national stage for that long."

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Here's how the candidates ranked according to the latest poll:

Newt Gingrich 38.4%

Mitt Romney 21.5%

Rick Perry 9.0%

Herman Cain 6.6%

Michlele Bachman 5.4%

Ron Paul 4.1%

Rick Santorum 3.1%

John Huntsman 1.4%

Not Sure 9.1%

Results have a margin of error of +/- 2.99 percent.

Who would you vote for as your FIRST CHOICE to be the next Republican nominee for President if the primary election were held today?