WASHINGTON - Republican US presidential candidate Mitt Romney has opened a wide lead over all his rivals in the South Carolina primary election race and former front-runner Newt Gingrich has fallen dramatically, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Romney, who sealed his leading status after winning the Republican contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, could extinguish his rivals' hopes of becoming their party's nominee with a victory in South Carolina.

The survey found 37 percent of the southern state's voters support Romney. Congressman Ron Paul and former Senator Rick Santorum tied for second place with 16 percent support.

Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives who once led many polls in South Carolina, dropped to 12 percent.

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