U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham appears poised to win Tuesday's GOP primary without a runoff, a Clemson University Palmetto Poll of state voters suggests.
In an early look at the 2016 presidential field, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the favorite among S.C. GOP voters, with 22 percent support from those polled compared to second-place Chris Christie (10 percent). However, nearly half of respondents are undecided.
Jeb Bush 22 percent
Chris Christie 10 percent
Rand Paul 9 percent
Ted Cruz 9 percent
Marco Rubio 6 percent
Bobby Jindal 3 percent
Undecided/don't know 48 percent
Among Democrats asked if the presidential primary were held today, one-half said they would vote for Hillary Clinton, with 35 percent still undecided.
Hillary Clinton 50 percent
Joe Biden 12 percent
Andrew Cuomo 2 percent
Martin O'Malley 1 percent
Brian Schwietzer no traction
Deval Patrick no traction
Undecided/don't know 35 percent
*The Clemson University Palmetto Poll surveyed 400 frequent Republican voters from May 22 to 29 and 400 Democrats from May 26 to June 2. The poll has a plus or minus confidence of 6 percent and included nearly 8 percent of cell phone users in each category.
With only days left in the race, a statewide survey of 400 Republicans shows Graham has the support of 49 percent of those polled, putting him on the cusp of reaching the 50 percent-plus-one mark he needs to win the nomination outright, without a runoff.
While a significant 35 percent of voters remain undecided, the results suggest that if Graham can move just a small portion of the "up-for-grab" vote his way, he can claim the Republican nomination Tuesday without facing a potentially costly runoff June 24.
Pollster Dave Woodard said the results mirror the mood seen elsewhere as tea party-aligned challengers have mostly failed in their attempts to bring down veteran Senate Republicans or make significant inroads in crowded multi-candidate fields.
"GOP voters in South Carolina, like those in other parts of the country, seem content to return their incumbent office holders to power," said Woodard, a Clemson political scientist.
"Kentucky voters recently turned away a primary challenge to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Texas voters did the same for incumbent John Cornyn," he added. "That appears to be the case in South Carolina as well."
Woodard added that if Graham were polling in the 30s this late in the race, he would then have to be worried. But pulling in high 40s means "he probably can't be in a runoff."
A Graham spokesman said Wednesday the campaign would have no comment on the results.
Next in line in the Clemson poll were: Spartanburg state Sen. Lee Bright, with a 9 percent following; Upstate businessman Richard Cash, 3 percent; Charleston businesswoman Nancy Mace, 2 percent; Columbia minister Det Bowers, 1 percent; Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor 1 percent; Columbia lawyer Benjamin Dunn, 0 percent, or essentially no traction.
Woodard, who previously worked as a campaign manager for Graham in the 1990s, said the Clemson poll had no connection to the Graham re-election campaign.
The results were released Wednesday shortly after Mace held a conference call with reporters to promote her campaign agenda she called the "Empowering the American People Plan." During the call she claimed the second-place position, saying she was best-aligned to take Graham to a runoff.
"We are in second place," she said, adding that "we have done everything we possibly can to finish strong."
The Clemson Palmetto Poll numbers are based on surveys with 400 frequent Republican voters from May 22 to 29. The poll has a plus or minus confidence of 6 percent and included nearly 8 percent of cell phone users in each category.
The poll also surveyed Republican and Democratic choices for the White House. Among GOP voters, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush led with 22 percent, followed by current New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 10 percent. A significant 48 percent were undecided.
Among the 400 Democrats surveyed, 50 percent said they supported Hillary Clinton, followed by Joe Biden at 12 percent. About 35 percent were undecided.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551