Likely GOP S.C. primary voters give the edge to Georgia businessmanHerman Cain, who narrowly leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney inthe Palmetto State, according to a new GOP presidential poll.
Meanwhile Texas Gov. Rick Perry continues to fade into the background.
Thirty percent of likely S.C. GOP primary voters would pick Caincompared to 26 percent who say they favor Romney, according to a new NBCNews/Marist Poll released today.
This first test of candidate strength in the South is shaping up as atwo-way contest between Cain and Romney, said Lee M. Miringoff, directorof The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "Team Romney has tobe concerned about Cain's 40 percent lead among likely South Carolinavoters who strongly support the Tea Party."
All other Republican candidates polled in the single digits, includingPerry who garnered support from just 9 percent of respondents.
But there is still time to change plenty of minds. According to thepoll, 15 percent of those polled are undecided.
Other highlights of the poll, which has a margin of error of 2.1percent, include:
-- Cain does better than Romney among Tea Party supporters who represent45 percent of likely S.C. GOP primary voters, conservatives who make up50 percent of those voters and evangelical Christians who make up 40percent. Each of those three subgroups chose Cain by 41 percent, 32percent and 30 percent, respectively.
-- Romney's appeal is with moderate GOP voters. For example, a third ofnon-Tea Party voters, who account for 44 percent of the likely voters inthe S.C. primary, favor the former Massachusetts governor.
-- The debates have been a boon for Cain. Of likely GOP primary voterswho have watched at least most of the debates, 39 percent back Caincompared with 24 percent for Romney. Nearly 40 percent have watched allor most of the debates.
-- Romney's Mormon faith remains a point of uncertainty for S.C. GOPprimary voters. A majority -- 53 percent -- either think Mormons are notChristians or are unsure. Forty-seven percent say Mormons areChristians.