COLUMBIA — Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has a strong backing among GOP voters as she seeks re-election next year, but fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham will need to convince some members of his own party to give him another term, according to a new Clemson University poll.
Graham, who faces three opponents from the GOP’s libertarian wing in next June’s primary, was liked by 53 percent of 500 Republican voters who cast ballots in two of the past three Republican primaries, according to the poll. More than a third of GOP voters had an unfavorable opinion of the Seneca Republican.
Graham would get support from 31 percent of those GOP voters regardless of his primary opponent – a small number, according to Clemson political scientist Dave Woodard. Nearly 20 percent of Republicans said they would not vote for the senator in any event.
Graham’s campaign disputed Woodard’s findings, saying its internal polls, taken less than a month ago, have the senator with higher marks.
Woodard said Graham faces a challenge because Republican primaries attract more conservative and more ideological voters than the general election. Graham’s GOP opponents – state Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg, businessman Richard Cash of Anderson and public relations honcho Nancy Mace of Charleston – say they are more conservative than the senator.
According to the Clemson poll, GOP voters dislike Graham for his perceived lack of conservative principles, association with U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and tendency to compromise too much with Democrats. They also criticized Graham for supporting President Barack Obama’s proposal to use limited military force in Syria. The poll found two-thirds of Republican voters oppose military action in Syria.
“He is not where the GOP base is,” Woodard said. “He’s gotten off the reservation.”
Graham’s camp said Woodard’s polls are inaccurate.
The Clemson polls don’t use professional pollsters and voter registration lists, Graham adviser Richard Quinn said of the professor, who once worked for Graham’s campaign. Graham’s internal polls, taken as talk about attacking Syria began, had him with a 63 percent favorable mark, Quinn said, adding 44 percent of those polled said they would vote for Graham regardless of who else is running.
Woodard said he hired a professional polling team that used a registered voter list to conduct the survey last week. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
Graham – who has disputed his opponents’ characterizations of his record – holds one large advantage over his challengers: He has more than $6 million on hand.
“This poll shows it will take more than money to win a Republican primary in South Carolina,” the Mace campaign responded Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Haley received favorable ratings from 70 percent of GOP voters, the Clemson poll found. Just 18 percent said they did not like the former Lexington state representative.
Almost half of the GOP voters polled said they would vote for Haley next year no matter who ran against her. She would not receive support from 13 percent of those surveyed.
Since winning the Governor’s Mansion, Haley has worked to solidify her support among Republicans, splintered after a rough 2010 primary.
No Republican has announced plans to challenge Haley in next year’s primary. The first-term governor is expected to meet Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden in the general election, a rematch of their 2010 race.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a former congressman from North Charleston appointed to the Senate earlier this year by Haley, received a 69 percent favorable rating from GOP voters, according to Clemson. Scott is running next year for a full six-year term. Thus far, he faces no opposition in the GOP primary.