Politics & Government

Obama's popularity rising in S.C.?

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama may be struggling to maintain support nationwide, but in the predominantly Republican state of South Carolina, he's not doing too badly.

Nearly 48 percent of adults who live in the Palmetto State approve of Obama's performance as president, a Winthrop University poll found.

That result was a slight improvement over the 45 percent of South Carolinians who voted for Obama in November 2008, when Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain carried the state with 54 percent of the tally.

"I like the way (Obama) handles himself," said Jerald Bailey, a retired real estate appraiser in North Augusta. "I like his speeches. I like his family. I'm proud of how he represents the United States when he travels. I think he's doing a really great job. Our country is much better represented and has more esteem in the world than it used to."

Surprisingly in a heavily Republican state, Obama outperformed GOP U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint in the new poll. And his wife, Michelle Obama, did even better, as 58 percent of those surveyed said they approve of the first lady.

Only 39 percent of those surveyed approved of Graham's performance as a senator, while 43 percent backed DeMint.

Graham's aides ridiculed the poll results, noting that he was overwhelmingly elected to a second Senate term in 2008, defeating Democrat Bob Conley by a 58-42 percent margin.

Those election figures put Graham 13 percent points ahead of Obama scarcely 15 months ago.

"President Obama is losing support across the country," said Kevin Bishop, a Graham spokesman. "But based on this poll, he's now more popular in South Carolina than on Election Day when he won the presidency? This poll is not even remotely close to accurate."

DeMint, in the last year of his freshman Senate term, declined to comment on the poll results.

Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop political science professor who oversaw the poll, cautioned against putting too much weight on the comparison between Obama and the two senators.

As president, Obama has higher name recognition than Graham or DeMint, which partially contributes to his better showing, Huffmon said.

Nationwide, 51 percent of Americans approve of Obama's performance as president and 43 percent disapprove, the Gallup daily tracking poll showed Wednesday.

In South Carolina, Obama's negative ratings in the Winthrop poll were considerably higher than those of either senator.

Forty percent of South Carolinians disapprove of Obama's handling of his job, compared with 32 percent who disapprove of Graham's performance in office and 28 percent who disapprove of DeMint's work.

Donna Oliver, a disabled Democrat who lives in Columbia, said she voted for Obama, but has been disappointed by his performance as president.

"Everything's gotten worse under Obama," Oliver said. "I don't think he's doing a good job. As an African-American, I thought he would have made a difference for the blacks, but he hasn't."

Oliver said she and her daughter were evicted from their home after her daughter lost her job at a local Burger King. Her daughter now works at a Hardee's, and they've found new housing.

First lady Michele Obama is much more popular than her husband in South Carolina, where she has family roots.

More than 58 percent of adults surveyed said they have a favorable opinion of Michele Obama, while only 14 percent reported an unfavorable impression. A total of 27 percent said they were undecided or don't know her well enough to judge.

Al Blanchette, a Republican human-resources and purchasing manager at a direct-mail company near his home in Little River near North Myrtle Beach, said he voted for Graham in 2008 with mixed emotions, but will support DeMint's re-election enthusiastically in November.

"He's a good man," Blanchette said of DeMint. "He's fiscally conservative, which means a lot to me. He's pro-life. And he does not believe in putting in judges who are not strict constitutionalists."

David Ervin, a real estate broker in Cowpens near Spartanburg, described himself as a political independent who voted for Graham's re-election and for McCain as president in 2008.

"Lindsey is a very smart man," Ervin said of Graham. "There are a lot of Republicans in South Carolina who don't like the job he's doing, but I think he has the ability to help us if he could get cooperation from other senators."

Among South Carolina Republicans, 45 percent approve of Graham's performance while 61 percent approve of DeMint's work. Graham scored much higher than DeMint among Democrats and independents.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC