Politics & Government

Trump defense is working for Lindsey Graham. What does that mean for local election?

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., points as Democrats as he defends Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at the Sept. 27 Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., points as Democrats as he defends Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at the Sept. 27 Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. Tom Williams

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham may have seen a huge boost in popularity among S.C. Republicans after his impassioned defense of new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh – and his support for President Donald Trump.

A new poll recently released by Winthrop University shows Graham has seen a 21 percentage point boost in approval rating among S.C. Republicans in the last six months.

Those numbers could show other South Carolina Republicans the way to re-election on Nov. 6.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman (R-Rock Hill) campaigned with Graham in Fort Mill Oct. 25 and said he’s seen in person that Republican voters are enthusiastic about Graham and the president, especially after the Kavanaugh confirmation.

Norman is running for re-election against Democratic challenger Archie Parnell. Parnell faced Norman in the 2017 special election and narrowly lost in one of the most competitive congressional races in the last 20 years in South Carolina.

Parnell supporters hope to flip the district this year after national promises of a “blue wave.” But Norman said Republican voters are just as energized as Democrats.

“(The Kavanaugh hearings) galvanized the country, not just my race,” Norman said. “I’m happy people are involved and excited.”

Graham’s overall approval rating is at 49 percent, according to the poll. His approval rating among poll respondents who lean Republican is at 72 percent, up from 51 percent in April 2018. Forty-one percent of all South Carolinians polled say they disapprove of the way Graham is handling his job.

Winthrop Poll director Scott Huffmon said Graham’s popularity boost, especially among GOP voters, may be from his forceful defense of Kavanaugh.

“The easiest thing to spot is Kavanaugh, but I think more broadly (the reason is) is him taking that position of head cheerleader for (President Donald) Trump’s policies,” Huffmon said.

He said Graham’s public view of Trump has changed greatly from his thoughts before the 2016 presidential election.

In February 2016, Graham called Trump “a kook” and “unfit for office” in an interview with Fox News.

Now, Graham is a staunch Trump supporter.

“He’s jumped on the bandwagon,” Huffmon said. “If Trump points the wagon a certain way, Lindsey grabs the reins and shouts ‘giddy up.’”

And that change is working for him, at least with Republicans, according to the Winthrop Poll.

“Lindsey Graham just ensured his election and rightfully so,” Norman said.

Graham isn’t up for re-election until 2020, but Huffmon said the jump in approval rating among Republican voters is good for his chances.

“He would’ve been much more open in 2020 to a serious primary threat if he had continued to see low numbers in GOP approval,” Huffmon said.

Graham used his boost in popularity to motivate voters in a campaign stop with Norman. Graham said the Kavanaugh hearings and the news of a large group of Central American migrants traveling toward the U.S. should be enough for residents to vote Republican.

“It will only stop if they lose at the ballot box,” Graham said, referring to Democrats. “So between the caravan, and Kavanaugh, if you’re not motivated to vote as Republican, then you’re legally dead.”

Norman said he’s seen a positive response to conservative ideas at his campaign stops, and he feels confident that Republicans will come out ahead in the Nov. 6 election.

But Parnell spokesperson Michael Wukela said Parnell isn’t worried about the poll numbers.

“He’s focused on talking to the voters, not on Winthrop poll numbers,” Wukela said.

Sixty-nine percent of South Carolinians polled said they disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, according to the Winthrop poll. Wukela said he believes that number is a better indicator of the District 5 race.

He said he believes District 5 voters are not satisfied with their representatives in Congress, and are looking for a change.

“Sixty-nine percent of South Carolinians disapprove of Congress right now — on the way Congress is working as a whole,” Wukela said. “It’s hard to argue that (Norman) doesn’t own that.”

Hannah Smoot: 803-329-4068, @hgsmoot
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