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South Carolina Republican governor's race headed for runoff, new poll shows

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Candidates for South Carolina governor, from left to right, top to bottom in alphabetical order: Kevin Bryant (Republican), Yancey McGill (R), Henry McMaster (R), Phil Noble (Democrat), James Smith (D), Catherine Templeton (R), John Warren (R) and Marguerite Willis (D). Photos provided.

COLUMBIA — With his lead in the South Carolina Republican governor's race shrinking, Gov. Henry McMaster is heading for a runoff with either Mount Pleasant attorney Catherine Templeton or Greenville businessman John Warren, according to new poll data released Saturday.

The backing of President Donald Trump, who won the state handily in the 2016 presidential primary and general elections, has not prevented McMaster from being vulnerable in a race that he was hoping to win outright on June 12.

Templeton and Warren, both running in their first races as Trump-style political outsiders, gained support from voters over the last two months, while McMaster's lead has been cut by half, according to polling from Michigan-based Target Insyght.

Warren made the biggest leap, going from last place in early April with only 1 percent of support to third place last week with 20 percent, the survey found. The Marine combat veteran who owns a specialty real estate lender has poured $3 million of his own money into the campaign to buy air time.

He is within the poll's margin of error, plus or minus 5 percent, of tying Templeton, a former state public health and labor agencies chief. She grabbed 25 percent in the new poll, up slightly from April. She and McMaster have combined to raise $8 million.

McMaster's support fell from 46 percent to 37 percent between the two polls, Target Insyght found.

The first-time candidates pledging massive changes in Columbia are attracting some voters over McMaster, a political veteran who is a former lieutenant governor and attorney general. The governor is wooing voters by saying he can maintain the state's improving economy.

The other Republicans in the race, Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant and former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, stand below 5 percent in the new poll.

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Eleven percent of GOP primary voters are undecided, half of the April survey.

Meanwhile, after calling the three-way Democratic race a virtual tie in April, Target Insyght did not release new poll results Saturday because nearly half of the Democratic primary voters are undecided or unaware of the candidates.

That does not bode well for state Rep. James Smith, the presumed frontrunner with endorsements from a former vice president (Joe Biden) and South Carolina's top Democratic politician (Congressman Jim Clyburn), who is facing a pair of first-time candidates.

Smith said at a debate last month that he was the Democrats' best chance to win in November because of his experience. 

But the 22-year lawmaker and Afghanistan combat veteran from Columbia has some work to do to avoid an upset or runoff against Florence attorney Marguerite Willis and Charleston businessman Phil Noble.

The Democrats will debate again at 7 p.m. Monday at the University of South Carolina. The Republicans gather on stage at 7 p.m. Tuesday. 

The debates, which are co-sponsored by The Post and Courier, will air on S.C. ETV and South Carolina Public Radio.

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