Lindsey Graham River Rat event 2014

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There’s been a lot of speculation lately about what’s going on with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. Once a fierce critic of President Donald Trump — he said in 2016 the tycoon was “unfit for office” and a “xenophobic, race-baiting bigot” — over the past several months he’s become one of the president’s cheerleaders and confidantes. And after he lit into Senate Democrats during the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, he took on some serious conservative cred.

Some on the left have suggested the president has some compromising information on Graham.

Some say it’s all a tactic, that Graham is sucking up to the president so he can wield influence over him. Graham partly acknowledged this to The New York Times, saying, “I’ve got an opportunity up here working with the president to get some really good outcomes for the country.”

But there’s an even simpler way to look at it, bolstered by the results of the latest Winthrop Poll and not entirely at odds with what Graham himself has said: Maybe he's just trying to get re-elected in 2020.

“As South Carolina’s senior senator has become closer with Trump, his approval rating among Republicans has risen greatly,” reports the South Carolina-based poll, out today.

The poll surveyed 1,001 South Carolina residents by landline and mobile phone in late February and early March.

Graham’s current approval rating among Republicans and those who lean Republican in South Carolina is 74 percent. In last February’s Winthrop Poll, it stood at just 41 percent among that same group.

Meanwhile, Trump has an 82 percent approval rating among Republicans and those who lean Republican in South Carolina, down just one percentage point from November.

Graham beat back a flurry of right-wing challengers in the 2014 primary, none of whom ever consolidated enough support to threaten him. And he’s always gotten strong centrist support in the Palmetto State. But Graham’s approval among Republicans flagged seriously as Trump ascended to power. Then, things changed.

“Graham’s approval has benefited from his defense of, and alignment with, President Trump,” said poll director Scott Huffmon, a professor of political science at Winthrop University, in a release. “While Graham’s numbers used to lag those of other Republicans among GOP identifiers, since he has taken up the president’s banner on most every issue, his approval among Republicans in South Carolina has steadily risen.”

Graham’s overall popularity among all South Carolina poll respondents is 49 percent and his disapproval rating is 38 percent. Trump’s overall popularity is 42 percent and his disapproval rating is 49 percent.

According to the latest results, Graham is as popular as U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who has for several years been the most popular politician among Republicans in the state. He too has a 74 percent approval rating among Republicans and those who lean Republican.

You can check out the poll’s other findings, including questions about gun control and abortion, here.

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