South Carolina's Republican U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott are safe bets to win in November, according to a new Palmetto Politics poll.
If the election were held this month, the poll found that 45 percent of likely South Carolina voters would vote for Graham, compared to 33 percent for Democratic challenger Brad Hutto.
Former state treasurer and reality show star Thomas Ravenel was the choice of 10 percent, with 4 percent supporting Libertarian Victor Kocher and 8 percent undecided, based on a survey of 650 people.
Jim Lee with Susquehanna Polling and Research said while many Republican voters aren't big fans of Graham - who prevailed over six GOP primary challengers last month - they find him more appealing than voting for a Democrat.
"As entertaining as it is to consider the prospects of a Ravenel upset given how colorful of a guy he is," Lee said, " this poll doesn't suggest that either he or Kocher are likely to be a factor in the eventual outcome."
Ravenel, who is running as a petition candidate, resigned his post as state treasurer in 2007, later pleading guilty to cocaine possession. He was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison and three years of probation. More recently, he starred in Bravo TV's "Southern Charm" reality television show.
In a three-way race among Graham, Hutto and Kocher, Graham gets 46 percent of the vote, with Hutto getting 33 and Kocher getting 9 percent, with 12 percent of 1,000 likely voters surveyed saying they haven't made up their minds.
Hutto faces a hurdle from President Barack Obama's falling approval rating here, he added. Only 39 percent of state voters said they approve of the job Obama is doing - less than the president's 42 percent rating nationally in a CNN/ORC International survey released last week and less than the 45 percent of state voters who voted for Obama in 2012.
"I think the elephant in the room in the Senate race is Obama's approval rating," Lee said. "That's really the reason why, in my opinion, Hutto is not competitive."
Graham's lead comes even as South Carolina voters give his job performance mixed marks: About 39 percent approve of his work, while 44 percent do not and 17 percent are undecided.
College of Charleston political science professor Gibbs Knotts said he expects Graham to win re-election because of his name recognition and sizable war chest, "but I'm a little surprised he wasn't hovering a little closer to the 50 percent mark (in job performance)."
The poll did not directly ask voters about the state's other Senate race, where Scott faces three challengers: Democrat Joyce Dickerson, American Party candidate Jill Bossi and petition candidate Brandon Armstrong.
Still, Scott's approval numbers - and his opponents' lack of name recognition and tepid fundraising - would indicate he has little to fear.
"It's hard to come up with a scenario where that race looks close," Lee said.
Forty-eight percent approved of the job Scott is doing in the Senate - the same percent that approve of Gov. Nikki Haley's performance - but only 27 percent disapprove of Scott's performance, compared to 41 percent who disapprove of Haley's. One of every four South Carolina voters said they are undecided on Scott's work.
Knotts said it makes sense that 25 percent of voters still are withholding judgment on Scott "because he's never been on a statewide general election ballot. I think folks are still getting to know him."
Scott, appointed by Haley after Jim DeMint's resignation, has more than $3.6 million on hand, while his opponents have less than $7,000 combined, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Scott is vying to become South Carolina's first African-American elected to the Senate, but it's unclear how many black votes he will draw. African-American voters are among the most reliably Democratic, often voting 90-95 percent for that party's candidates.
Lee noted Scott's approval rating among nonwhites is 23 percent. "Can Tim Scott over-perform with blacks this November? Absolutely. ... Maybe he ends up being the top vote getter in the state," he said. "The question would be, would it be transferable in a presidential year?"
Lee said Graham's job approval numbers show "he is not the darling of conservatives," adding that GOP voters give him only a 56-28 approval rating - about 15 points lower than Scott's.
"Still, this being said, you'd have to conclude that many GOP voters, while not fans of their veteran senator, still think 'half' a conservative is better than voting for a Democrat," he said.
The poll was conducted earlier this month and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
Brad Hutto, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.×
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.×
Thomas Ravenel, independent candidate for U.S. Senate.×
Victor Kocher, Libertarian canddiate for U.S. Senate.×
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