GOP Senate primary

If the primary election were held today, S.C. Republicans said they would vote for...

Lindsey Graham

45%

Lee Bright

8.5%

Nancy Mace

3.7%

Bill Connor

3.5%

Richard Cash

2.9%

Not sure

34.9%

Refused to say

1.6%

Winthrop Poll taken Feb. 16-23; margin of error is plus or minus 3.2 percent.

Less than half of South Carolina's Republicans support U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, according to a new Winthrop University poll, which also found that 35 percent of them remain undecided in that crowded June Senate primary race.

Poll director Scott Huffmon said the results don't mean that Graham is in real trouble in this year's election because he has support of only 45 percent of GOP voters at this point.

"Graham is just way ahead of every opponent, but he still hasn't knocked out that 50 percent threshold," he said.

If Graham gets some share of the undecided vote, he could win the June 10 primary race outright and avoid a possible June 24 runoff.

Asked about the poll, Graham's campaign spokesman Tate Zeigler said, "As we begin our campaign, we're on very solid footing."

While Graham's support is lower among Republicans who support the tea party movement, not all of those voters are against him.

The poll also found that none of Graham's primary opponents have found much traction. State Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg led the rest of the pack with 8.5 percent.

The other potential GOP opponents - Charleston public relations executive Nancy Mace, Orangeburg lawyer Bill Connor, and Easley businessman Richard Cash - had less than 4 percent.

Cash said Wednesday those numbers will rise once their campaigns begin running TV ads.

"Right now, 95 percent of the voters have never heard of the challengers," he said, adding that Graham's poll numbers have dropped over the past year. "I think that's very encouraging to those of us who are challenging him, that he is vulnerable."

Bright's campaign said in a statement that Graham's dip below 50 percent confirms his long-held belief that a June 24 runoff is inevitable, "and (there's) nothing he can do in the next few months to put lipstick on that pig of a record."

Connor said in a statement the poll was taken before his statewide ad buy began last Wednesday and that its results show Bright's poll numbers peaked before Connor entered the race. He also called the results "very bad news for Lindsey Graham."

Mace's campaign said the poll shows voters' frustration with "today's go along to get along politics and the D.C. establishment."

Huffmon said most of Graham's challengers are not known outside their hometowns, and that's why their poll numbers are in the single digits. "They may be a rock star in the place they're from, but these folks are not widely known outside their geographic base," he said.

The challengers also face a fundraising hurdle. While Graham has $7.6 million on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission, his opponents trail far behind - Bright has $49,458 on hand, Cash has $255,432, Connor has $223,563 and Mace, $241,199.

The poll did not measure support for Det Bowers, who also might join the race, because he had not raised any money by the time the polling was done last week, Huffmon said.

Meanwhile, the poll showed why Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott are not expected to face any primary opposition this year. Their support among the Republican base is solid, with 78 percent approving of Haley's performance and 73 percent approving of Scott's performance.

"I think this poll shows that the strongest Republicans in the state are now very comfortable with Nikki Haley," Huffmon said. "That means she won't have a hard time turning out her base."

The poll surveyed 901 likely Republican primary voters from Feb. 16-23 and has a margin of error of 3.2 percent.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.