Jim DeMint would lead in the Republican primary for President in South Carolina if he decided to run, although GOP voters in the state seem a little bit ambivalent about a potential candidacy despite his popularity. If DeMint doesn't run Mike Huckabee is the favorite, continuing the momentum he's shown in PPP polling across the country so far in 2011.
DeMint is certainly well liked with the Republican base in his home state, sporting a 77/12 approval breakdown. But they're closely divided on whether he should go for the White House or not, with 40% of GOP voters expressing support for such a move but 37% opposed and 23% not offering an opinion. Because of that tepidness toward him running for President he just narrowly leads the primary in the state. 24% of voters say DeMint would be their top choice, followed by 20% for Huckabee, 17% for Mitt Romney, 12% for Sarah Palin, 10% for Newt Gingrich, 4% for Ron Paul, 3% for Tim Pawlenty, and 2% for Mitch Daniels. DeMint wouldn't be able to count on a blowout victory on the home front.
If you take DeMint out of the equation Huckabee is the biggest beneficiary. He would lead the state with 26% to 20% for Romney, 18% for Palin, 13% for Gingrich, 7% for Paul, 4% for Pawlenty, and 3% for Daniels.
If you're going to declare winners and losers in this poll the winners are Huckabee and Romney and the losers are Palin and Gingrich. Not winning South Carolina in 2008 punctured Huckabee's chances at winning the nomination but it looks like he'd be able to change that outcome if he gave it a second try. Romney has been polling fourth in a lot of other Southern states so for him to be within striking distance of Huckabee and beating Palin and Gingrich with this particularly conservative primary electorate are very good signs.
The results are probably worst for Gingrich. He led the first time we polled South Carolina last May, but has lost half of his support since then. Given South Carolina's next door status to his native Georgia this is easily the early primary state where he would have the most decent chance of winning but he looks to be losing momentum. For Palin a third place finish behind the relatively moderate Romney in a state with a very conservative Republican primary electorate does not bode well for her overall prospects.
The Republican Party has seen considerable division over the last year about whether the party should be more conservative or if its current ideological bent is acceptable. The key to Huckabee's success is that he's the leader with voters who fall into both of those camps. He leads Palin and Romney 30-19 with voters who think the party is 'about right' ideologically and he's up 24-18 on Gingrich with voters who think that it's gotten too liberal.
Romney's way up with a different group- Republicans who think the party's become too conservative. He leads Palin 29-15 with them. The problem for him is those folks only represent 10% of the Republican electorate there. That kind of encapsulates the challenge for his 2012 bid- his appeal is to a segment of the party's voters that is becoming smaller and smaller. Another potential issue for him- 39% of Republicans in the state have an unfavorable opinion of Mormonism to 23% who look on it favorably and 38% who are ambivalent.
It's been a good year for Huckabee in our polling so far and taking South Carolina would be huge for his chances of winning the nomination- of course we still have to wait and see if he's even going for it or not.
Full results here