New South Carolina Poll Shows Trump Has Work to Do

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A new Winthrop poll of South Carolina voters is out this morning, and it ought to put the brakes on all the Donald Trump speculation--or at least on his strength in the South. Among those "definitely" planning to vote in the South Carolina Republican primary in 2012 here's how the candidates fared:

Mike Huckabee 19.1%
Mitt Romney 16.6%
Donald Trump 11.3%
Newt Gingrich 8.1%
Sarah Palin 7.9%
Chris Christie 6.2%
Michelle Bachmann 3.7%
Tim Pawlenty 2.1%
Ron Paul 2.1%
Herman Cain 2.1%
Haley Barbour 2.0%
Rick Santorum 1.8%
 
Not Sure 13.6%

No shocker that Huckabee, who performed well here in 2008, leads the field, or that Romney fared well. From a national-sanity perspective, it's nice that Trump's not lapping the field, although he's running a strong third--second, if you expect Huckabee to pass on another run, as most do.

Earlier, I spoke to Scott Huffmon, who directs the Winthrop Poll, and for whom I have an enduring fondness, because he helped me devise this South Carolina campaign strategy for Stephen Colbert in 2008. Hoffman's perspective on the poll is refreshingly candid and down to earth. "This poll is nothing but a snapshot of the landscape these folks are wading into," he said. "Nobody has really ginned up their campaign yet." It's best to regard these results as the starting positions in a NASCAR race, with Huckabee in the pole.

Huffmon's take on Trump: "He's saying a lot of things that a lot of conservatives want to hear, but he's saying it in a very heavy New York accent. A lot of South Carolina Republicans, I'm guessing, want to hear it in a different accent. Trump says a lot that I think people are enjoying hearing, but people liked the sound of Rudy Giuliani, too, and he was unable to gain traction in South Carolina. But Trump did best Sarah Palin by a little bit. So his name recognition alone is getting him somewhere."

When I first spoke with him, Huffmon said that among the state's political class there was a lot of chatter about Barbour. But that was obviated by the news later in the day that he wasn't running. When I talked to him again, Huffmon said he'd be eyeing two other candidates with particular curiosity. "Gingrich has a lot of name recognition," he said. "Ralph Reed, in response to questions about [Gingrich's] constant cheating and marital woes, said he thought Christians believed in forgiveness, and a lot of people do. I'm interested to see if he can really gain traction. I'm looking for movement there, but I'm unsure of the direction."

And he said, "Rick Santorum is really talked about as hitting all the right conservative notes. I can't tell if people just aren't able to have a strong affinity for him or if they simply don't know who he is yet."

Huffmon cautioned not to read too much into the results, especially beyond the "top line" candidates like Romney and Huckabee. "Really, it's just journalists, activists and political scientists who are mentioning some of these other names; it's an echo chamber," he said. "People who are watching 'Dancing with the Stars,' are not, at this stage, aware of who Tim Pawlenty. No one really knows who Gary Johnson is. And unless you're in Indiana, you're probably not familiar with Mitch Daniels."

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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