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A Pollster's Preview Of The S.C. Primary


Now, turning to Clemson University and political scientist Dave Woodard. He spent the past week polling South Carolina voters, and joins us from the campus of Clemson. Thanks very much for being with us, professor.

DAVE WOODARD: Great to be here with you.

SIMON: A lot going on there this week. Have there been a lot of apparent changes of mind and heart that you can chart?

WOODARD: There certainly have been. As we put our poll in the field on Friday the 13th. I think that was the beginning of the problems, but by about this past week on Tuesday or Wednesday, we could tell things were just completely different from the picture we were getting earlier, so we had to scrap everything and go for a two-night poll on Wednesday and Thursday.


WOODARD: And we're showing Newt Gingrich up by about four to six points with 32. Next, is going to be Romney at 26. And we're showing for the first time, Ron Paul at 11 and Rick Santorum at 9. We're predicting that Santorum will finish fourth.

SIMON: What issues have seemed to cut well for Mr. Gingrich?

WOODARD: We did a survey of issues, and the issue that was number one was federal spending.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

WOODARD: Not unemployment and jobs, despite all the talk about the high unemployment in South Carolina, and the third thing was bickering in Washington. Gingrich's kind of anger is seen well in the debates, but also seen sort of in the way he can address a crowd when he walks out and talks about something Barack Obama did, and he just lights the place up. That seemed to really be something that was capturing people.

SIMON: Is this movement to Mr. Gingrich despite the interviews given by his second wife...


SIMON: ...or in a way because of the way he's played that issue?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Scott, I think you're right. I think he was able to play that in the debate earlier this week. He kind of turned it on the media and made them look like they were intrusive. But you got to realize, there's about a two to three-day lag period when something really big like that breaks. And so this may be something that just kind of would not work a week from now, or I mean would work to his disadvantage, but today it doesn't seem to be hurting.

SIMON: In the polling data that you have, as we speak, Mitt Romney is not that far behind and...


SIMON: ...obviously would still stand a chance to win today. What issues, what have drawn voters in South Carolina to Mitt Romney, those who support him?

WOODARD: The number one thing that seemed to be popping up all the time on Romney was business experience or private sector, the thing he keeps stressing as his plus, and a lot of people seem to identify with that. But, see, notice how this past week it's been kind of been turned into a minus because he hasn't revealed his tax returns and we find that he has money offshore in the Cayman Islands. And that plus might be sort of tainted.

SIMON: Professor Woodard, recognizing that we won't know the results for hours, where do you think South Carolina is going to position the campaign as it goes into Florida?

WOODARD: I don't see how it could be any lower than it is here.


WOODARD: This is probably the nastiest, hardest-hitting campaign I've ever seen in 25 years in South Carolina. The thing that was new this time were the superPACs. They had so much money and they were always attacking each other. And most of the press focused on the attacks that are on television. But really, what people were missing, there was tons of mail in there and phone calls by the dozens every night. I got two or three phone calls.

Now these aren't robocalls, where John McCain is endorsing Mitt Romney and asking you to vote for him. This is a negative robocall where somebody calls up and says don't vote for Rick Santorum because he had earmarks. He doesn't support right to work and just go down the list just bashing him. And then we have on top of that all this personal indiscretions and all this stuff that seems to surface here in South Carolina. And so it has just reached a really boiling point. Now, you know, I've had people emailing me all day saying, I'll just be glad when it's is over. I feel like I need to go take a shower.

SIMON: Dave Woodard, Clemson University. Thanks so much for joining us.

WOODARD: Thanks. Scott.


SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.