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Iowa Scrambles South Carolina Polls

In South Carolina, the polls are showing the same trend we’ve been seeing on repeat throughout the GOP race: the hot new rising star (in this case, Rick Santorum) is skyrocketing in the polls, while the old one (in this case, Newt Gingrich) is fading fast.

Exactly one month ago, Gingrich had peaked in South Carolina, leading the field at 42 percent in the NBC News/Marist poll. Today, he’s dropped down to third place, with just 18 percent in today’s Rasmussen poll. Meanwhile, Santorum – who was clocking in at 1 or 2 percent support last month – is now the frontrunner:

Rick Santorum, who two months ago had one percent support among likely South Carolina Republican primary voters, now is running a close second there with 24 percent of the vote.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the Palmetto State finds former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney still in the lead, earning 27 percent support from likely GOP primary voters, up from 23 percent in early November. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is in third with 18 percent of the vote, followed by Texas Congressman Ron Paul at 11 percent.

Bringing up the rear are Texas Governor Rick Perry with five percent and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman at two percent. Another two percent of these likely primary voters like some other candidate, and 11 percent remain undecided.

If the race were a game of musical chairs, Santorum would have sat down at the exact moment the music stopped. His success in Iowa was more serendipity than anything else. He was literally the last Romney alternative left when all the other options had been exhausted, and he just had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time. If the caucuses had happened one month earlier, does anyone doubt Gingrich would have finished at the top of the field?

And with two weeks to go until the South Carolina primary, Santorum is also perfectly timed to succeed in the state, if recent history is any indicator. The rise-and-fall arc of the other candidates has tended to last about a month and a half, which means Santorum should still be at the height of his popularity when South Carolina Republicans start heading to the polls. Of course, plenty can happen during the next 15 days. But so far in the race, it’s been pretty consistent.