McCain keeps an edge in South Carolina, Democrats vote along racial lines

12 hours from the polls opening, three new polls from South Carolina confirm that John McCain is favored going into tomorrow's voting, albeit by differing margins:

  • The SUSA poll has McCain maintaining his lead, 31% to 27% against Huckabee. It was 29% to 26% a few days ago. Romney and Thompson are basically stable at 17% and 16%, with Paul at 5% and Giuliani at 2%.

  • The Fox News survey, which was taken on January 16th and 17th, has McCain with a very health 27% to 20% lead, with 15% to Romney and 11% to Thompson, with 4% to Paul and 3% to Giuliani. Last week, McCain was leading Huckabee 25% to 18%. Notice, however, that there is a high number of undecideds (19%); other polls show that evangelicals are more undecideds than non-evangelicals, which could help Huckabee.

  • Finally, an Insider Advantage conducted the poll entirely Thursday and finds Huckabee and McCain tied at 26%, with Thompson and Romney at 13%. Giuliani and Paul are tied at 5%. The pollster adds that (1) indications are that Huckabee's turnout and motivational edge could help him catch up a few points, and (2) the Wednesday polling has huckabee up 5% (though I'm not sure what that means since this poll was entirely taken on Thursday).
McCain looks to be ahead but Huckabee has what it takes to catch up with him tomorrow. Behind the two front-runners, Romney and Thompson are playing for third -- and even that would certainly not be good enough for Thompson, though it could boost Romney heading into Florida (especially if he wins Nevada).

SUSA also released numbers for the Democratic primary to be held next week, and the results favor Obama still, as he leads 46% to 36%. That's actually an improvement for Hillary who was trailing 50% to 30% in the last SUSA poll taken before New Hampshire. But she is truly sinking among the black vote. Take a look at the trendline:

  • In November, the first SUSA poll, Obama led the black vote 52% to 39% (and that was after a significant improvement on his part, since Clinton led among blacks for much of the year). Two weeks ago, it was 69% to 23%. Today, Obama is ahead 74% to 20%.
  • Meanwhile, Clinton is running much better among whites than she did two weeks ago, which accounts for the improvement of her results. She then led 38% to 29%, now she gets 50% (the highest since early December) to 26% for Edwards and 22% for Obama.
The South Carolina primary is clearly coming down on racial lines, and the racial controversies of the past 10 days account for the polarization of the electorate. And this is not a game Clinton can win in that state, especially with Edwards in the game.

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