A new Mason-Dixon poll of South Carolina, the first Southern primary state of the 2008 campaign, finds Sen. Barack Obama taking a much needed lead on the Democratic side, and undeclared candidate Fred Thompson leading the Republicans. For the Democrats, the South Carolina race has been the most fluid. Poll numbers in the last few months have shown Clinton in the lead, Obama in the lead, and John Edwards having a strong showing. Obama leads in the latest poll with 34%. Sen. Hillary Clinton is second at 25%, John Edwards has slipped to third with 12% support, and 24% undecided. Obama’s base in the state is among black voters who are giving him 41% of their support. Clinton got 18% and 33% of the African American voters is undecided. This is the opposite of a national trend that has seen Clinton lead among African American voters.

In the Republican race, the surge of fellow Southerner Fred Thompson of Tennessee to the top of the poll is the big news. Thompson got 25% support, Giuliani 21%, Romney 11%, McCain 7%, Huckabee 5%, and 28% were undecided. Giuliani’s support of the Iraq war and national security has played well in this military dominated conservative state. These stances have helped obscure his more liberal social views on issues like abortion. McCain’s slip to single digits mirrors what has happened to him in other polls because of his support for the unpopular immigration reform bill. Mitt Romney has not been able to gain any ground in the state, and has focused more of his resources and efforts on Iowa and New Hampshire.  

If Thompson can continue to demonstrate strength in the South, he could shake the GOP primary to its core. I could easily see this race turning into an inner party battle based along Civil War era boundaries. The fact that Thompson can lead this field when he hasn’t even campaigned in the state is the largest expression of voter dissatisfaction with their choices yet. Most of these voters don’t even know what Fred Thompson stands for but they are willing to give him a shot over a New York City liberal (Giuliani), a flip-flopper (Romney), and an amnesty giver (McCain). If I was in the Giuliani campaign, I would be very nervous about Fred Thompson. He is everything Giuliani isn’t, and a traditional conservative is.

On the Democratic side, the race is wide open between Clinton and Obama. John Edwards continual move to the left doesn’t seem like it has played well among the more conservative white Southern Democrats. The battle between Clinton and Obama will be for African American votes. So far, whoever has had the lead with these voters has had the advantage in the state. Obama desperately needs a win here as it looks like he may be a slow getting out of the gate in Iowa in New Hampshire. If he loses here, and then in Florida to Clinton, this could put Hillary on her way to a spree of delegate gathering that would culminate on February 5 with an orgy of big state primaries where Clinton has been leading. Obama needs a momentum buster, and South Carolina could be it.

Poll numbers came from here. 

 Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at


Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 6:30 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse
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