An Opinion Savvy poll released Friday for The Augusta Chronicle and Morris News Service shows billionaire Donald Trump leading the GOP presidential field in South Carolina with 27 percent, a much smaller margin than before.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was close at 24 percent, followed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz at 19 percent.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement of Rubio on Wednesday played a clear role in vaulting him to a close second place, said Matthew Towery, a columnist and InsiderAdvantage founder/Opinion Savvy analyst.
Indeed, he said, the bump could have been greater if the popular Republican governor had endorsed Rubio earlier.
“Trump is very lucky the primary is being held on Saturday, because if they had made this endorsement earlier and Rubio had received a little more positive ink or press any sooner, I think things would been an entirely different,” Towery said.
The Republican presidential primary is Saturday, and the Democratic primary is Feb. 27.
“What I’m expecting is there to be a really tight top tier of Trump, Rubio and Cruz, because Cruz has proven he can use his foot soldiers to get the vote out there,” Towery said. “He’s been stuck at 18-19 percent in every poll, and I think he’ll overperform that. So you have Rubio rising because of the endorsement, you have Cruz likely to perform better than expected because of his supporters,and then you have Trump who I still think will win but not by a lot, because of his committed base, which is extraordinary.”
He said Trump’s fight with the Pope will not hurt the real estate mogul at all in South Carolina, which has a small Catholic population.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush led the back of the pack at 11 percent, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 8 percent, and Ohio Gov. John Katich at 7 percent. Four percent were undecided.