Poll: Gingrich surging post-debate in SC

A new poll released Thursday shows Newt Gingrich surging in South Carolina and cutting front-runner Mitt Romney's lead to 10 points over a two-day survey, with even more dramatic gains among voters after a Monday night debate.

The NBC News/Marist poll shows Mitt Romney with 34 percent support from likely GOP voters, ahead of Gingrich with 24 percent. Texas Rep. Ron Paul showed in third place with 16 percent, followed by Rick Santorum at 14 percent and Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 4 percent.

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The Marist survey, which was conducted over two nights, Monday, Jan. 16, and Tuesday, Jan. 17, also shows strong gains for Gingrich following the Monday evening South Carolina GOP debate, further denting Romney’s edge.

The poll showed that Gingrich had narrowed Romney's lead to only five points among likely voters surveyed on Tuesday, a day after the debate. Marist said the post-debate numbers showed Gingrich with 26 percent to Romney's 31.

“Monday night’s debate has changed the political landscape, and it’s now a much more competitive contest," said the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion Dr. Lee M. Miringoff in a statement.

Among key groups in South Carolina’s GOP electorate, the Marist poll found Gingrich posting strong gains after his Monday night debate performance, which at one point saw the former House Speaker receive a standing ovation from the audience.

Among those voters who are "very conservative," the Marist survey found Gingrich leading Romney over the two-day tally by 33 percent to 23. Among voters surveyed on Monday, Gingrich received 32 percent support, Romney received 27 percent and Santorum 24 percent. Post-debate on Tuesday, Gingrich was backed by 35 percent, with Santorum at 20 and Romney dropping to 19.

Among Tea Party voters, Romney and Gingrich both received 31 percent support over the two-night survey. Among those surveyed Monday, Romney topped Gingrich 35 percent to 27. On Tuesday, though, Gingrich overtook Romney, with the survey showing him backed by 34 percent of Tea Party-affiliated voters, to Romney’s 27 percent.

Among evangelical Christians, over the two-day survey, Romney tops Gingrich with 29 percent to 25 percent. On Monday, Romney held a 14-point edge with 36 percent to Gingrich's 22 and Santorum's 19 percent. But on Tuesday, Gingrich again gained, receiving 27 percent support from evangelicals followed by Romney with 22 percent and 19 percent for Santorum.

Gingrich, who has called on conservatives to coalesce behind his candidacy, has called South Carolina's primary the "last chance" to prevent Romney from winning the party's nomination.

The poll's results come on the heels of a CNN-ORC poll released Wednesday, which also showed Gingrich moving to within 10 points of Romney. In that poll Gingrich had cut Romney's lead nearly in half and trailed with 23 percent to Romney’s 33. In a CNN-ORC poll conducted earlier in the month, Romney had led Gingrich in South Carolina by 19 points, 37 percent to 18.

Nationally, a recent survey from Rasmussen showed Gingrich similarly surging and trailing Romney by only three points.

"Romney has not closed the deal in South Carolina," said Miringoff.

Gingrich has launched fierce attacks on Romney, working to position himself as the conservative alternative to the GOP front-runner. Gingrich has attacked Romney for his business record as CEO of private-equity firm Bain Capital, claiming Romney profited from the shuttering of American businesses and laying-off of workers. 

Gingrich's attacks on Romney's tenure at Bain, however, do not appear to be resonating with GOP votes in the state. 

Forty-eight percent of likely Republican primary voters said the criticism was unfair, with 22 percent saying it was fair.

Sixty-one percent of likely GOP voters said that Bain and similar investment firms had a positive effect on the market and helped create jobs, while 24 percent said such enterprises harmed the economy.

The Marist poll surveyed 2,524 voters and has a 2 percent margin of error.