SC Primary Poll: Obama 34% Hillary 25% Edwards 12%

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WASHINGTON – South Carolina appears poised to shake up the 2008 presidential race, with Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Fred Thompson the frontrunners in a new state survey by Mason-Dixon.

With strong support from the African American community, Illinois Senator Obama has assumed a strong lead over New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. On the Republican side, Thompson zoomed to the top spot, slightly ahead of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, even though he hasn’t yet announced his bid for the GOP nomination.

The Mason-Dixon poll, made available to McClatchy Newspapers and NBC News, offered disappointing news for two candidates who previously had been polling well in South Carolina. John Edwards, a South Carolina native who won the primary in 2004, was well behind Obama and Clinton on the Democratic side. Arizona Sen. John McCain, meanwhile, appeared to have lost many of his supporters to Thompson, and was far back in the GOP field.

Although it is still nearly seven months off, the first Southern presidential primary is proving a major attraction to candidates in both parties, who are spending extensive time in South Carolina.

Obama led in the new poll with 34 percent of likely voters to 25 percent for Clinton. Edwards was third at 12 percent. Sen. Joe Biden was at 2 percent; so was former Vice President Al Gore, who has given no indication of running but whose name was volunteered by some voters. Twenty-four percent were undecided.

For Democrats, the most crucial group of voters in South Carolina are blacks, who by some estimates could make up more than half of the party’s primary voters.

Nationally, Clinton leads Obama among black voters. But in South Carolina, likely voters overwhelmingly favored Obama (41 percent) over Clinton (18 percent). About one-third of the black voters in South Carolina remained undecided.

“As long as he maintains his edge in the black community, Obama has the edge in South Carolina,” said Coker.

Earlier South Carolina polls have mostly shown Clinton with a lead over Obama and Edwards still in the hunt.

Edwards has been counting on a strong showing in South Carolina, but his outspoken opposition to the Iraq war and drift to the left on other issues may not be playing well with the state’s pro-military, generally conservative voters.

South Carolina’s Democratic primary is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 29 and Republican primary for Feb. 2.

This poll is showing movement among the black electorate toward Obama, while it is a very small sample-less than 400 polled, it is an interesting snapshot of the race at this point.  If Obama keeps this up, he has a chance.  Nothing short of 75% black support will get him the nomination.