COLUMBIA — Welcome to life as a swing district.
Less than a week after Democrat Joe Cunningham pulled off his stunning upset victory in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, Republicans are already sizing up the potential 2020 field of challengers.
A new preference poll of likely GOP primary voters found that Katie Arrington and Mark Sanford lead the pack at 32 percent and 26 percent, respectively, which strategists believe is to be expected given their high name identification in the district.
Sanford has been in public life for decades, and Arrington is coming off a highly publicized race.
A lengthy list of other contenders is already getting interest, according to the poll conducted by South Carolina-based Ivory Tusk consulting and Florida-based Political Marketing International.
The survey ran from Nov. 8-10, with 2,291 likely GOP voters contacted by cell and land lines. It carries a 2 percent margin of error.
“It appears Republicans in the 1st Congressional District are sticking with who they know, for now,” said Political Marketing International President Jerry Dorchuck. “But a lot can happen in 18 months.”
State Sen. Tom Davis led the newcomers at 9 percent; followed by state Rep. Nancy Mace at 7 percent; state Sen. Larry Grooms at 4 percent; state Rep. Weston Newton and former gubernatorial candidate Catherine Templeton at 3 percent each; and Beaufort County Treasurer Maria Walls at 1 percent.
About 15 percent of likely Republican primary voters either said they were unsure of who they would vote for or supported a candidate not included on the list.
While South Carolina Republican officials have already set their sights on Cunningham as their top target in the next election, Ivory Tusk Consulting President R.J. May said he was surprised to see 42 percent of GOP-leaning voters said Cunningham deserves a chance before they find a challenger.
The poll also found that 41 percent of respondents say supporting President Donald Trump is the most important quality they're looking for in a Republican nominee for Congress, topping both their ability to appeal to moderates and their conservative credentials — a sign of the president's enduring popularity among GOP primary voters.
“If President Trump’s approval rating remains sky-high among GOPers, it will be tough for any Never-Trumper to break through," May said.