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SC poll: Romney, Cain virtually tied for lead, but most undecided

COLUMBIA, SC -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Herman Cain are statistically tied among South Carolina voters who have made up their minds as to whom they'll support in the state's Republican primary, a Clemson University poll found Wednesday.

But more than two-thirds -- 68 percent -- of likely South Carolina voters, most of whom were frequent GOP primary voters, have said they have not made up their mind in the primary, underscoring the fluidity in the Republican campaign in the Palmetto State.

As for those who have decided: If the primary were today, 22 percent expressed a preference for Romney, while 20 percent picked Herman Cain, a statistical tie well within the poll’s 4.5 percent margin of error. 

The poll was conducted from Oct. 27th and Nov. 7th, during which news broke of Cain’s sexual harassment allegations. It was completed, however, before Cain’s press conference last night denying the charges from Sharon Bialek, the first woman to publicly accuse him.

“I think the picture [of Cain] is much different with each passing day,” Republican consultant and Clemson political science professor Dave Woodard said.

The poll found former Speaker Newt Gingrich in third, at 10 percent. Texas Gov. Rick Perry took 9 percent while Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum all polled below 5 percent. More likely voters, however, insisted they were undecided –- 31 percent -– when asked whom they'd vote for today.

Woodard said he was not surprised by the high number of undecided voters, noting that at this point in 2007, Mitt Romney also led the Clemson poll although he finished fourth in the primary the following year.    

He also pointed out that because South Carolina’s January primary comes so soon after the winter holidays, voters might not start tuning in until the week before the vote.

“We’re having a Saturday primary on the 21st and I wouldn’t be surprised if we have Wednesday, Thursday, Friday deciders,” Woodard said. He added that Clemson would conduct two more primary polls, one in December and one in January before the primary.
The co-author of a book with Sen. Jim DeMint, Woodard said that DeMint will likely stick to his decision, reported earlier this week, not to endorse a presidential candidate.

“He’s just not the kind of guy who says something like that and changes his mind,” Woodard said. “If there’s one thing about Jim DeMint, when he says he’s not going to endorse anybody, he’s not going to endorse anybody.”

The poll was conducted Oct. 27-Nov. 7.