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A week before the first presidential debate of the 2012 campaign season, a pair of Republican retreads from 2008 remain ensconced atop the latest poll of South Carolina GOP voters.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – who finished second and fourth in the 2008 S.C. Republican presidential primary – lead the field this go-round, according to a poll released on Tuesday by Winthrop University.

Among likely GOP primary voters, Huckabee was the first choice of 19.1 percent of respondents, while Romney was preferred by 16.6 percent of those surveyed. Billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump came in third with 11.3 percent, followed by former U.S. Speaker Newt Gingrich (8.1 percent), former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (7.9 percent),  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (6.2 percent) and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (3.7 percent).

Several other candidates received a sprinkling of support, while 13.6 percent of likely GOP primary voters said they “weren’t sure” who they would vote for at this early stage of the race.

Obviously these numbers aren’t terribly surprising. The two candidates who have campaigned here previously – and who thus enjoy broader name recognition among South Carolina primary voters – continue to receive the most early support. In fact, we saw similar results in a January 2011 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey.

“Those are the only candidates people know,” a top Republican operative not affiliated with any presidential campaign told FITS. “It’s not that Huckabee and Romney are doing particularly well, it’s that nobody’s really doing much of anything yet.”

What’s changed in three months?

Well, Trump has come out of nowhere to place third, while Christie – who has repeatedly stated that he will not be a candidate in 2012 – is currently running fourth. Meanwhile Palin’s support has eroded considerably, as has support for Gingrich and Ron Paul.

“Sarah Palin has clearly outlived her usefulness,” the GOP operative said.

Among all South Carolina voters, Barack Obama’s job approval rating stood at a paltry 43.4 percent – while 47.4 percent of all voters (and 55 percent of independents) disapprove of his performance.

Congress fared far worse, though – even after the GOP takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives in January. Only 15.1 percent of respondents said they approved of the job Congress was doing, compared to 73.1 percent who disapproved.

Among GOP respondents, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) said they were not members of the Tea Party movement, although nearly three-fourths of Republicans (74 percent) said they supported the movement’s principles.

They’re certainly concerned about unnecessary government spending. When asked what they believed to be the most important issue facing the nation, 32 percent of Republican (or GOP-leaning) respondents cited the budget deficit or debt. Only the economy (33 percent) scored higher.

As for state issues, spending issues placed third (13.1 percent) behind jobs (23.8 percent) and the economy (22.8 percent).

The Winthrop poll surveyed 1,363 registered voters between April 17-23, 2011. Its margin of error is 2.65 percent. For its Republican survey, the poll interviewed 589 Republicans and “Republican leaners.” The margin of error for those respondents is 4.04 percent.

South Carolina Republicans will get a chance to assess several of these candidates next week at a nationally-televised debate held at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, S.C. Those expected to participate in the debate include Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum. Other names may be announced in the coming days.