ATLANTA Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee took the lead for the Republican nomination in the early-voting state of South Carolina in a poll released on Friday that mirrored his rapid rise in national polls.
Huckabee was the choice of 24 percent of South Carolina Republicans in the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll taken December 9-12, up from 3 percent from July.
Huckabee campaigned this weekend in the state, which holds its Republican primary on January 19, and voters placed him first when asked to name the most believable candidate.
"Part of it (Huckabee's rise) has to do with ... religious conservatives as well as moderates and how they perceive the qualifications of the candidates on socially conservative issues," said Blease Graham, professor of political science at the University of South Carolina.
"Huckabee has come on ... because he has a more personable or pastoral appeal to a lot of voters," Graham said.
Actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson came in second with 17 percent.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who leads in national polls for the Republican nomination to contest the November 2008 presidential election, saw his support cut nearly in half in the state from 30 percent in July to 16 percent.
Giuliani tied with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who also had 16 percent.
Sen. John McCain, who also campaigned in South Carolina this week, came in fifth with 13 percent, down from second place in July, while Texas Rep. Ron Paul polled 11 percent.
The sampling error for Republican primary voters was 4 percentage points.
The same poll showed Sen. Hillary Clinton leads the South Carolina race for the Democratic nomination in the presidential election with 42 percent. But the contest has tightened with Sen. Barack Obama at 34 percent, up 7 percent since July.
Obama held a rally for around 29,000 people in Columbia, South Carolina, on Sunday where he was introduced by television talk show diva Oprah Winfrey, who is campaigning for him.
The rally was attended mainly by African Americans, a key voting group in the state. Among black Democratic voters Obama's support jumped from 33 percent in July to 45 percent now, 1 percentage point behind Clinton with 46 percent,
Graham said Clinton had built a solid base in the state among black voters who also regarded former president Bill Clinton highly. As a result, her support was withstanding a strong challenge from Obama.
"It's a struggle between the Democratic establishment, which is Clinton's, and the ability to recruit new voters and expand the party base, which is Obama's," Graham said.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards polled 16 percent in South Carolina.
(Editing by Jim Loney and Todd Eastham)