From NBC's Mark Murray and Chuck Todd
Two days until South Carolina's GOP primary, John McCain and Mike Huckabee are locked in a virtual tie in that contest, according to a new MSNBC/McClatchy/Mason-Dixon poll.
McCain leads Huckabee by two points, 27%-25%, which is within the survey's 5% margin of error. They're followed by Mitt Romney at 15%, Fred Thompson at 13%, Ron Paul at 6%, and Rudy Giuliani at 5%. Eight percent say they're undecided.
In the Democratic contest, Barack Obama has a nine-point lead over Hillary Clinton, 40%-31%, with John Edwards -- who won this state in 2004 -- at 13%. Fifteen percent say they're undecided. The largest chunks of undecided voters are women and African-Americans, which could be a boon to either Clinton or Obama.
Looking deeper into the poll numbers, the McCain-Huckabee race in South Carolina shows a striking split between voters who think that leadership and strength are the most important qualities they're looking for in a presidential candidate, and those who believe that sharing their values is the top quality.
Among the 43% of likely GOP primary voters who cite strength and leadership, 33% chose McCain -- compared with 19% for Romney and 17% for Huckabee. But among the 39% who say values, 37% picked Huckabee -- versus 19% who selected Thompson, 15% who went with Romney, and 12% who said McCain.
In addition, respondents who identified themselves as born-again Christians pick Huckabee over McCain, 33%-20%. Among those who aren't born again, the split is McCain 39%, Huckabee 11%. Self-described born-again Christians made up 62% of the Republican sample.
In the Democratic race, Obama bests Clinton among men (42%-27%), women (39%-34%), African Americans (56%-25%), and voters under 50 (47%-21%). Clinton leads Obama among whites (39%-20%) and those over 50 (39%-35%). In fact, it's worth noting, Obama's third among whites, at 20% with John Edwards garnering 28% of the white vote, 11 points behind Clinton. Edwards is virtually shut out among African-Americans, receiving less than the poll's 5% margin of error.
The change-vs.-experience theme also plays out in South Carolina, according to the poll. Among those who believe that change is the most important quality in picking a presidential candidate, it's Obama 65%, Edwards 11%, and Clinton 7%. Among those looking for experience, it's Clinton 81%, Edwards 8%, and Obama 7%.
Yet more likely Democratic primary voters in the poll (37%) say that the candidates' position on the issues is the top quality -- rather than change (18%), experience (16%), and being honest and trustworthy (19%).
Among those Democrats who cite issues as the top quality, it's Clinton 32%, Obama 29%, and Edwards 21%.
The poll -- taken of 400 likely Republican primary voters and 400 likely Democratic primary voters -- was conducted from January 14-16, and it has a margin of error of +/- 5%.