Politics & Government

Bauer, McMaster winning the name race

Attorney General Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer share a laugh during a break at a GOP  at the Newberry Opera House in late 2009.
Attorney General Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer share a laugh during a break at a GOP at the Newberry Opera House in late 2009.

South Carolinians are far more familiar with Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and state Attorney General Henry McMaster than the other Republicans running for governor.

But nearly as many Republicans dislike Bauer as like him, a factor that could hinder his ability to make it to a runoff.

The two other Republicans in the governor's race, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett of Westminster and state Rep. Nikki Haley of Lexington County - and the entire Democratic field - are not known to South Carolinians.

Those are a few of the findings of a Winthrop University poll of 837 voting-age South Carolinians conducted earlier this month. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.39 percent.

The data show McMaster and Bauer running close in terms of name ID among the party faithful. Nearly 30 percent of Republicans said they had a favorable opinion of McMaster and more than 25 percent said that of Bauer.

Among all respondents, the two candidates swap places, with Bauer earning the highest favorability rating of nearly 24 percent, edging McMaster out by 2 percentage points.

Richard Quinn, general consultant to McMaster, said he's pleased with the findings.

"Henry is entering the race with high positives and low negatives," he said. "Republican voters know him. They generally think he's been an aggressive public servant that has done a good job."

Bauer may need to work on his image. A quarter of Republicans said they had an unfavorable opinion of him compared with 7 percent who said they disliked McMaster.

In January, Bauer compared welfare recipients to stray animals.

"Throughout history, leaders who have spoken out most passionately about issues . . . have tended to have high negatives in opinion polls," said Larry Marchant, Bauer's spokesman. "These polling numbers suggest that Andre Bauer will be in the runoff election, which is where he needs to be."

Bauer has said his stance on halting the cycle of dependency has garnered him lots of praise in recent weeks from a wide range of South Carolinians.

Meanwhile, Barrett leads in the money race with more than $1.5 million cash on hand, according to the latest disclosures. But 64 percent of Republicans say they aren't familiar with the congressman from Westminster.

His campaign said it will use its war chest to change that.

"Because of our fundraising success we have the resources we need to introduce Gresham and his vision of job creation to voters across the state," said B.J. Boling, Barrett's spokesman.

Eighty percent of Republicans said they're not familiar with Haley.

But if first lady Jenny Sanford agrees to stump for Haley, it could prove a big boon for the Lexington County Republican. Jenny Sanford has already endorsed Haley.

Nearly 64 percent of Republicans said they have a favorable opinion of the soon-to-be-former first lady whose memoir, "Staying True," is a New York Times bestseller.

"She's fulfilled her job as the governor's wife admirably," said Charles Stone of Abbeville, who participated in the poll.

Tim Pearson, Haley's spokesman, said Wednesday the campaign welcomes the first lady's involvement to whatever extent she wants to be involved. But even on her own, Pearson said, Haley is a formidable candidate. She defeated a longtime incumbent in her first run for the State House and she has raised the second-highest amount of new money among the Republican contenders.

The lack of recognition is even more striking among the four Democratic contenders.

On average, 71 percent of Democrats said they don't know enough about Columbia attorney and former lobbyist Dwight Drake, Sen. Robert Ford of Charleston, state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex or Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Kershaw County to form an opinion.

Democrats offer different takes on their lack of name ID.

Wednesday, Drake pointed out he's the only Democrat who hasn't held office before and is pleased to be starting out on relatively even footing with the others.

Ford said he plans to take to the radio airwaves and tout his stances on reviving video poker and giving parents who send their children to private schools tax money- a move he's certain will build his name ID.

The low name ID is most surprising for Rex, who has held the state's top education post since January 2007. Still, 65 percent of Democrats say they don't know the Fairfield Democrat.

It may look worse than it actually is, said Winthrop professor Scott Huffmon, who coordinated the poll. "Rex's advantage is a statewide network, not statewide name ID," he said.

That network of educators, school leaders and others in the education community can be prompted to show up on primary day and pull the lever for Rex.

"He just needs to make sure that no other candidate scrapes off those followers," Huffmon said.

In terms of money, Sheheen leads the Democrats with about $749,000 cash on hand. But 77 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of respondents overall are not familiar with him, putting him on par with Drake and lagging behind Rex and Ford.

Huffmon cautions it's too early to say which candidates will make it to a runoff.

"This race is not salient to people yet," he said. "They've got the Olympics, 'American Idol.' They've got lives and tax season. This is what the battlefield looks like before anyone has moved their troops."

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