A recent poll of 500 likely 1st Congressional District Republican voters depicts the nine-way primary race as a two-tier contest at this point: Four candidates with familiar Republican names and lengthier political resumes are clustered at the top.
But the poll also shows about 40 percent of GOP voters haven't made up their mind, so each candidate has a chance to make big gains before the primary June 8.
Charleston businessman Carroll "Tumpy" Campbell came in first with 18 percent, while state Rep. Tim Scott, R-North Charleston, finished second with 16 percent.
Former Charleston County School Board member Larry Kobrovsky, who commissioned the poll from Victory Communications Inc., placed third at 10 percent. Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond finished fourth with 7 percent.
Kobrovsky, who has been out of office for several years, was heartened by the results. "There's a hunger for something different," he said. "This also shows that it's a real contest."
Scott declined to comment on the results except to say, "The only poll that will matter in the end is the one that will happen on June 8."
Thurmond said he hasn't paid any attention to polling. "The best advice I got is when you run for public office, you either don't run or you run scared," he said.
Stovall Witte, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, said he's not surprised by the results, particularly that 40 percent are undecided.
"I've talked to some people who have changed two or three times already," he said. "I've always known I'm a dark horse and I plan to close at the end."
Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Ken Glasson said he doesn't doubt the accuracy or fairness of Kobrovsky's poll, "so that means I've got my work cut out for me."
Steve Maloney, a spokesman for GOP activist Katherine Jenerette, said polls don't tell much at this early stage.
"Katherine's been delighted at the ever-growing amount of support she's receiving in the 1st Congressional District, especially from conservative activists, including those in the Tea Party and 9/12 groups," Maloney said.
Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop University, said the crowded nature of the race makes it difficult to judge.
"You're talking a lot of people with an unclear strategy for a path to victory and not a lot of money on hand to do it, which makes it a lot murkier to peer into any crystal ball," he said.
The candidates' relative fundraising strengths will become more apparent later next week, when campaigns are supposed to file financial reports.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.