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Up for grabs: three new polls in the South Carolina GOP primary

It's going to be an interesting night for political junkies- and for anybody else interested in America being rescued from the horror of a Trump or Cruz nomination and a resultant Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency. The polls in South Carolina are all over the place, and though there seems (at least in some polls) to be a late movement away from Cruz and toward Rubio, who knows?

This primary is critical, but not for the usual reasons. Everybody agrees that Trump is going to win it handily; his approximately one-third of the vote (it will never get smaller and almost certainly will never get much bigger) currently dominates a field in which the "sane lane" votes are divided three ways. Those three candidates- Rubio, Bush and Kasich- have, together with the departed Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, received enough votes in both Iowa and New Hampshire that if they had been cast for a single candidate, he would have won both. The real issue at this point is how quickly "sane lane" votes can be concentrated behind a single candidate- almost certainly Rubio- so that at least one of the three can be viable going forward. Therefore, Rubio has to do well (preferably, though not necessarily, finishing ahead of Cruz), while Bush and Kasich have to do badly enough that they're motivated to drop out at the earliest possible date.

Three last South Carolina polls have come out after popular Republican Gov. Nikki Haley's (above and  left) endorsement of Marco Rubio. An Emerson poll taken in the same time frame has already been reported here.

The Clemson Poll looks like this:

Trump 28%
Cruz 19%
Rubio 15%
Bush 10%
Kasich 9%
Carson 6%

The poll reflects the views of 650 likely voters and has a margin of error of six percent.

A new NBC/WSJ/Marist poll reports:

Trump 34%
Cruz 18%
Rubio 15%
Bush 13%
Kasich 9%
Carson 9%

The poll questioned 722 likely voters and has a margin of error of 3.6%

And the Opinion Savvy poll- reported by "Real Clear Politics" but for some reason not included in the table- shows the likely result as:

Trump 27%
Rubio 24%
Cruz 19%
Bush 11%
Carson 8%
Kasich 7%
Undecided 4%

A weighted 780 voters participated, and the margin of error is 3.5%

Opinion Savvy adds:

Rubio has increased his support in several key demographics, including the 45-64 and 65+ age cohorts. Rubio is also ahead of Trump in the Lowcountry, a less conservative area of the state with a lower percentage of Republican voters. In our most recent polls, Cruz has hovered around 19%, which he maintains once again.

Trump has managed to improve his ranking within the youngest demographic, and he maintains the highest commitment from voters: 97% of Trump supporters indicated that they do not foresee changing their vote.

For all intents and purposes, the results indicate a very likely Trump win… just don’t be surprised if Rubio fares better than expected.

Macht Nichts, as my grandmother used to say. If the results are as predicted by Opinion Savvy Bush and Kasich will likely be forced from his race, uniting the "sane lane" vote behind Rubio in advance of Super Tuesday on March 1. And equally important, Rubio will replace Cruz as Trump's main opponent.

In that case, expect Il Duce's propaganda machine to begin to target Rubio much as it has targeted Cruz since New Hampshire.

But the results (as you may have noticed) are all over the place. Trump will indeed most likely win. But the significant results tonight will be whether Cruz or Rubio finish second, and whether or not Bush and Kasich do well enough to justify their staying in the race, at least in their own minds.

Of the two, the second is by far the more important. I don't put much stock in those rather arbitrary statements by various pundits that Rubio will somehow cease to be viable if he finishes behind Cruz. As long as Bush and Kasich are out by or shortly after Super Tuesday on March 1, Rubio will be well positioned for the main part of the battle for the nomination as a candidate able to compete on equal footing with Trump and Cruz. The most likely result would be a brokered convention, with Rubio by far the most likely among the three to emerge as the compromise nominee. Cruz's supporters will almost certainly prefer him to Trump.

Graphic by DonkeyHotey

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