Poll: Surging Gingrich lops Romney’s lead in South Carolina by nearly half

Newt Gingrich has moved to within 10 points of GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney in South Carolina, according to a CNN-ORC poll released Wednesday.

Gingrich's surge has cut Romney's lead in the state nearly in half in less than two weeks. The poll was conducted from Jan. 13 to Jan. 17. Gingrich roundly attacked Romney in the candidates' debate in South Carolina on Jan. 16.

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Romney took 33 percent in the poll, followed by Gingrich at 23 percent, Rick Santorum at 16 percent, Ron Paul at 13 percent and Rick Perry at 6 percent.

In a CNN-ORC poll conducted earlier this month, Romney led Gingrich, who was then in third place behind Santorum, 37 percent to 18 percent.

The presidential candidates trailing Romney are furiously trying to derail the former Massachusetts governor before Saturday’s South Carolina primary, which Gingrich has called the “last chance” to stop a Romney nomination.

After victories in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, a win in South Carolina would go a long way to cementing the narrative that Romney is the inevitable GOP nominee.

However, the Iowa Republican party will release its audited caucus results on Thursday morning, which could possibly show that Romney, who was initially believed to have won by eight votes over Santorum, actually finished second to Santorum by a similarly slim margin.

An Iowa win by Santorum, coupled with a surprise showing by Gingrich in South Carolina, could completely change the narrative of the GOP primary, leaving Romney with only one strong victory in New Hampshire, where he owns a vacation home and which borders his home state of Massachusetts.

In addition, a survey from conservative polling outlet Rasmussen released Wednesday showed a Gingrich surge nationally, where he trails Romney by only 3 percent.

The Romney campaign turned its sights on the former House Speaker Wednesday in two Web ads while Romney went after Gingrich on the campaign trail.

“You know, the Speaker just the other day at the debate was talking about how he created millions of jobs when he was working with the Reagan administration. Well, he’d been in Congress two years when Ronald Reagan came to office,” Romney said. “That would be like saying 435 congressmen were all responsible for those jobs. Government doesn’t create jobs. It’s the private sector that creates jobs. Congressmen taking responsibility or taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the Internet.”

Gingrich on Wednesday seemed to sense the Romney campaign was aware of his newfound momentum.

"I fully expect the Romney campaign to be unendingly dirty and dishonest for the next four days because they're desperate,” Gingrich said. “They thought they could buy this. They're discovering they can't buy this."

“I think they have internal polls that show them losing,” Gingrich added.

Still, the CNN-ORC poll shows Romney maintaining a healthy lead in Florida, where the winner will take all of the state’s delegates.

Romney is polling at 43 percent in the Sunshine State, followed by Gingrich at 19 percent and Santorum at 18 percent.