Forgive South Carolina voters if the looming 2016 presidential contest is giving them a strong sense of deja vu.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading the Democratic pack among this state's voters, according to a new Palmetto Politics poll, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is receiving the most love here on the GOP side.

"I think it's hilarious," College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts said. "This is not 1992 all over again, but we've still got Bush and Clinton. Of course, we're talking about a different Bush and a different Clinton."

About one-third of 1,000 likely voters surveyed picked Hillary Clinton as their choice for president in two years - far more than any other Democratic contender. Vice President Joe Biden netted only 5 percent.

While the poll found Bush holding a narrow lead over Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, that party's presidential race is far from clear, said James Lee of Susquehanna Polling & Research Inc., which conducted the poll for The Post and Courier and three South Carolina television stations.

"On the Republican side, it looks like it's more of a wide open field," he said.

The poll was limited as far as how many potential candidates could be included, and potential GOP contenders such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Ohio Gov. John Kasich could emerge as strong candidates in future months. Several of them have visited South Carolina within the past year.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, once seen as a GOP frontrunner, was favored by 9 percent of those polled.

Knotts said that with Christie damaged by reports that his staff ordered lane closures on the George Washington Bridge as political retribution, Republicans are looking at others who might offer the best chance of winning in November 2016.

"It's tough for any party to win three or four presidential elections in a row," Knotts said. "This is a good one for Republicans to win. It's just a matter of picking the right candidate and making sure it's someone who can have appeal in the general election. ... The party is really doing some soul searching trying to figure out how to pick the right candidate."

And the Democratic race could get interesting, too, if Clinton were to decide not to enter the race.

"If she doesn't run, then it's a wide open field," Knotts said. "Biden does not seem to have a lot of enthusiasm."

One thing is certain: Most South Carolina voters aren't pleased with the current occupant of the White House.

President Barack Obama's approval rating was only 39 percent - about the same percent as voters who identify themselves as Democrats.

Meanwhile 57 percent said they disapprove of the president's performance. Knotts said it's unclear if Obama's approval numbers will affect the upcoming 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

"The base of the Democratic party is still supportive of the president," he said.

Lee said Obama's low approval here could play a greater role on the Republican side, potentially hurting Christie, who earned the ire of many Republicans for appearing with Obama after Hurricane Sandy in the run-up to the 2012 election.

Knotts and Lee said they expect South Carolina to play an important role in the presidential primaries, but the poll results - particularly Obama's low approval rating - don't indicate that the Democratic presidential nominee will have much chance of winning the state in November 2016.

The poll of likely South Carolina voters was taken earlier this month and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.