WASHINGTON -- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has surged ahead of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani among Republican voters in South Carolina, and Sen. Hillary Clinton is clinging to a slim lead over Sen. Barack Obama among Democrats.
A new McClatchy-MSNBC poll found that the GOP contest in South Carolina is more wide open than the Democratic race, with five Republican contenders bunched within 10 percentage points of one another.
Huckabee is backed by 20 percent of likely GOP voters in the state. Giuliani stands at 17 percent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 15 percent, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson at 14 percent and Arizona Sen. John McCain at 10 percent.
"With him (Huckabee), it's not a big show, it's just common sense," said Julia Glass, a retired probation officer in Wisconsin who now lives on St. Helena Island. "He's not shifting around. He really sounds like he would appeal to people outside our (Republican) party."
Glass and other South Carolina Republicans will vote on Jan. 19 in the GOP primary, with Democrats following a week later.
Elsewhere among Republican voters, Huckabee has opened a 12-point lead over Romney in Iowa -- 32 percent-20 percent -- while Romney is ahead of Giuliani in New Hampshire by 25 percent-17 percent in the Mason-Dixon polls.
On the Democratic side in South Carolina, 28 percent of likely voters support Clinton, 25 percent back Obama and 18 percent favor former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who won the party's 2004 S.C. primary before Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts chose him as his running-mate.
South Carolina Democrats will vote on Jan. 26.
Obama, from Illinois, holds a 37-21 percent lead over Clinton, from New York, among black Democrats in the state. Clinton leads 34-21 percent among S.C. female Democrats.
Democrats 50 or older back Clinton over Obama by a 30-22 percent margin. That could be a key advantage because seniors are more likely to vote than younger voters.
Clinton holds similar leads in the other early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, according to McClatchy-MSNBC polls of likely Democratic voters in those states. In Iowa, Clinton had 27 percent, Obama 25 percent and Edwards 21 percent. In New Hampshire, it was Clinton 30 percent, Obama 27 percent and Edwards 10 percent.
"The Democratic race is quite competitive," said Brad Coker, the managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. "We've seen a tightening in Iowa, Obama's gained ground in New Hampshire and South Carolina is close, as well."
Iowa voters from both parties will cast the nation's first 2008 presidential ballots in precinct caucuses on Jan. 3. New Hampshire primary voters will go to the polls on Jan. 8.
Barbara Whiteman, a retired history teacher at Hilton Head Preparatory School, said she likes Clinton's experience as first lady and as a U.S. senator.
"The world's in a mess," Whiteman said. "We need someone who knows what they're doing, is strong in character and can get things done. I think she's probably the best."
Serlene Burke, a retired nursery school teacher in New York City who now lives in Mullins, said she's a strong supporter of Obama, partly because he's a fellow African-American.
"He gives me such hope," Burke said. "I think he could turn this nation around."
African-Americans are likely to play a decisive role in the South Carolina Democratic primary because they're expected to make up almost half the total turnout.
Despite his success four years ago, Edwards is struggling in the state.
Pat Castelow, a retired trucker in West Columbia, said he backs Edwards because the Seneca-born son of a textile mill worker criticizes American manufacturing firms for shuttering factories and shipping jobs abroad.
"Incredible arrogance and the almighty dollar is selling our country out," Castelow said.