A poll released Friday on the South Carolina Republican presidential primary shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holding a declining lead over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The poll of 750 likely Republican voters gave Romney 28 percent and Gingrich 21 percent. Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas were tied at 16 percent. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman trailed with 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
The survey was conducted by Rasmussen Reports, a polling organization.
Although Huntsman is toward the back of the pack, his campaign was buoyed by the sizable crowds that turned out at his events this week in Columbia and North Charleston, said supporter Henry McMaster, the former South Carolina attorney general.
"We've got a long way to go," McMaster acknowledged. "We are really in tall timber with strong candidates who have lots of money."
Voters in the state will cast ballots on Jan. 21 during the first-in-the-South presidential-preference primary.
Even though Romney captured the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, his popularity has eroded in polls conducted in South Carolina this month. The year's first poll, a CNN/Time survey that came out Jan. 6, pegged Romney's support at 37 percent and Gingrich's at 18 percent.
Romney went to West Palm Beach, Fla., on Thursday in anticipation of its Republican primary on Jan. 31. But his campaign remained busy in South Carolina, issuing a fundraising update and a flurry of endorsement announcements. According to his campaign, Romney raised $24 million in the last three months of 2011 and has more than $19 million in cash on hand. Those endorsing him included Anderson businessman William Biggs, Greenville Mayor Knox White and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.
Attention continues to focus on the recent attacks that Perry and Gingrich have made against Romney and his former company, Bain Capital.
Clemson University professor Bruce Ransom said upcoming polls may show that the efforts by Perry and Gingrich to call attention to Romney's business dealings "have backfired."
Gingrich and Perry both refrained from talking about Bain Capital during campaign events in the state Thursday. But Perry broached the subject during an interview with Fox News.
"The idea that you've got private equity companies that come in, take companies apart so they can make profits and have people lose their jobs, that's not what the Republican Party is about," he said.
Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich political action committee, has prepared hard-hitting TV ads about Romney and Bain Capital. The 30- and 60-second spots that will air soon in South Carolina feature clips from a 28-minute documentary film titled "When Mitt Romney Came to Town" that can be viewed on the committee's website. Highlighted by interviews of employees with four companies who lost their jobs, the film portrays Romney as a greedy corporate raider.
Two other political action committees that are supporting GOP candidates filed paperwork Thursday with the Federal Election Commission outlining plans to buy media time in South Carolina.
Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney group that ran a series of tough ads against Gingrich before the Iowa caucuses, is going to spend $1.7 million on airing campaign ads in South Carolina. Santa Rita SuperPac, which supports Ron Paul, is spending more than $300,000 on ads.
The political action committees and the candidates that they support are prohibited by law from coordinating their efforts.
(Contact Kirk Brown of the Anderson Independent-Mail in Anderson, S.C., at Kirk.Brown@IndependentMail.com)