South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham may be in for a bumpy ride in his bid to secure a third term in November 2014, a new poll suggests.
The Clemson University poll released Wednesday found that Mr. Graham enjoys far more tepid support among his fellow Republicans than other state GOP leaders, even as he faces a competitive primary against a trio of conservative challengers. Poll author David Woodard, a Clemson political scientist, found that just 53 percent of the 500 Republicans surveyed hold a favorable view of Mr. Graham, compared to 36 percent who had an unfavorable view.
This stands in stark contrast to South Carolina’s other Republican senator, Tim Scott. Although Mr. Scott has far lower name-recognition numbers among voters, he holds a 69 percent to 6 percent approval-disapproval rating among South Carolina Republicans. GOP Gov. Nikki Haley also is popular with the party base, with a 70 percent to 18 percent approval-disapproval rating.
Mr. Woodard said that the high disapproval margin posed a threat to Mr. Graham, reflecting his often tense relations with conservative and tea party activists in the state. During President Obama’s first term, Mr. Graham backed Mr. Obama’s nominations of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. More recently, Mr. Graham has pushed for immigration reform and military engagement with Syria.
“Most incumbents have a ‘re-elect regardless’ number in the 30s, so the governor’s numbers are quite strong,” Mr. Woodard told the State newspaper in Columbia. “That cannot be said about Graham.”
Currently, three Republicans are challenging Mr. Graham: state Sen. Lee Bright, Piedmont businessman Richard Cash and Nancy Mace, a businesswoman who was The Citadel’s first female graduate.
Mr. Graham is one of a number of Republican Senate veterans facing conservative primary challengers. In Wyoming, incumbent Michael B. Enzi must fend off Liz Cheney, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter. Matt Bevin, a Kentucky businessman, has declared his candidacy against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr last month announced plans to take on incumbent GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander. Democrats currently hold a 55-45 Senate majority, meaning that a net gain of six seats could give Republicans control of the chamber.
Professor Scott Buchanan, executive director of South Carolina’s Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics, said that Mr. Graham’s toughest critics still represent a minority in the state electorate. “When you look at the polls, 8 to 10 percent of Republicans in the state consider themselves a member of the tea party,” Mr. Buchanan pointed out. “They are very outspoken in the media. But only one in 10 Republicans in South Carolina identify themselves as tea partyers.”
Mr. Graham has a sizable amount of campaign money over his likely rivals. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Mr. Graham has raised more than $5.5 million and has more than $6.3 million in cash on hand.
Mr. Graham’s fundraising capabilities could possibly appeal to the South Carolina business sector.
“South Carolina is an interesting place. It is commonly perceived to be very conservative, both fiscally and on social issues,” said David Alvis, an assistant government professor at Wofford College. “But there’s a very large segment of the population, which is the business portion, that want South Carolina to be a bigger player in the national economy.”
Clemson’s poll, which was conducted Sept. 18-23, has a margin of error of 5 percent points.