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No clear leader

Posted: November 10, 2011 11:24 a.m.
Updated: November 11, 2011 5:00 a.m.

South Carolina voters have gained a reputation over the past few years of being able to accurately pick the Republican presidential candidate who will end up with the party’s nomination. Candidates have recognized that, crisscrossing the Palmetto State in an effort to woo voters here. But with only a couple of months left before the state’s first-in-the-South primary, voters in South Carolina haven’t locked in on a particular candidate, which probably is a powerful statement about how ambivalent people are about the GOP field.

A recent poll indicated that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the field, but with a paltry 22 percent of respondents’ votes. Herman Cain, who’s struggling to survive multiple accusations of sexual harassment, is second, only 2 percentage points behind Romney. But even more telling is the fact that two-thirds of those polled say they are likely to change their minds before the January 21 polling date. That certainly emphasizes the fact that no candidate has really caught on with voters.

There’s a lot for Republican candidates to gain in South Carolina; the state’s primary voters have picked the eventual winner every time since 1980. One whose prospects are dimming is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who in Wednesday night’s debate committed a major gaffe: saying he’d eliminate three governmental cabinet agencies, then being unable to name all of them. Many experts think Romney has the best chance to defeat Obama -- he’s more moderate than most of the other GOP candidates, though he won’t admit it -- by appealing to swing voters who supported Obama in 2008 but are disenchanted with his performance.

In any event, you can bet there will be some major-league jostling among Republicans over the next two months to woo South Carolina voters.

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