Poll puts Huckabee in lead for 2012 GOP candidate in the South

ROCK HILL (WACH) -- A poll released by Winthrop University Wednesday shows who voters in southern states prefer as a GOP candidate in the 2012 presidential race.

Among the 11 states, including South Carolina, likely Republican voters say they would vote for former Arkansas Governor and FOX News Contributor Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee, who will be at the Village at Sandhill for a book signing on Monday, pulled in over 21 percent of those polled by phone between February 21 and 27. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich came in a distant second with almost 13 percent and Tea Party favorite and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin picked up just shy of nine percent.

Almost one quarter said they were unsure of who they'd vote for in the 2012 GOP Primary.

Click here to see how the rest of the possible 15 Republican candidates placed in the poll.

The poll also shows a majority of those questioned don't like the job the President and Congress is doing. In addition, 64 percent say they don't like the current direction of the country.

The author of the poll, Scott Huffmon, isn't surprised by the dislike of the President in the Republican South.

"The South is a Republican stronghold here in the 21st century. Sixty years ago it would have been very different, it was solidly Democrat, but it was always conservative," said Huffmon. "So this is always a stronghold of conservative feelings and conservative sentiment."

Since the Reagan era, the winner of South Carolina's GOP primary has earned the Republican presidential nomination, helping solidify its status as a Republican hotbed.

However, population growth noted in the 2010 census shows South Carolina and the South as a whole may no longer be an afterthought for Democrats. Both parties could start waging a more fierce battle for votes with more electoral votes now up for grabs. The Democrats have already taken notice, setting up the 2012 Democratic convention in Charlotte.

"The whole whistling past Dixie theory is getting even tougher," said Huffmon. "So Democrats are going to have to at least start focusing on some winnable Southern states."

Huffmon points out no matter who is doing the campaigning, the economy will be a top priority in 2012. More than 30 percent of the nearly 900 people surveyed in Winthrop's 11-state poll still say the economy is their main concern. South Carolina still has one of the higher jobless rates in the country as the Palmetto State continues to try to turn the economic corner.

More than 850 respondents were called in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent.

Read the entire poll by clicking here.

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