The latest Rasmussen poll from South Carolina suggests that Fred Thompson’s willingness to attack Mike Huckabee’s conservative credentials is bearing fruit. Following last week’s debate in which Thompson lit into Huckabee, Fred has moved from 12 percent support to 16 percent. Huckabee is down, correspondingly, from 24 percent to 19 percent.
The real winner, though, is John McCain. His support is essentially unchanged since the debate. But now instead of leading the second place Huckabee by 3 percentage points, he leads him by 9. In a survey taken after Iowa but before New Hampshire, Huckabee led McCain by 7 percentage points, so Huckabee seems to be falling fast in South Carolina.
This doesn’t mean that McCain is home free. South Carolina seems quite volatile (back in December, Romney was tied with Huckabee for the lead there, according to a Rasmussen poll), and only about half of those who expressed support for McCain in the latest survey said they are sure to vote for him.
The problem, though, is that McCain isn’t coming under serious attack in South Carolina. The only candidate who seems willing to take McCain on is Mitt Romney, and he’s doing it in Michigan with a Michigan-specific message.
But this could change if McCain wins in Michigan tomorrow. Such a victory would make him the clear front-runner. All other candidates would then have a new incentive to attack him — the fear that he might coast to the nomination. And South Carolina Republicans, among the most conservative in the country, would have to decide whether to stall McCain’s momentum and keep the race wide open. To do so, they would need to unite behind one man. Thompson’s mini-surge gives him hope that he might be the right man in the right place at the right time.
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