Politics & Government

SC Democrat James Smith thinks he’s within striking distance of McMaster. Here’s why

SC Gov Henry McMaster and Rep James Smith
SC Gov Henry McMaster and Rep James Smith

James Smith is touting a new poll that shows him within striking distance in the South Carolina governor’s race, less than three months before Election Day.

A poll released by Smith’s campaign Wednesday shows the Columbia Democrat trailing GOP Gov. Henry McMaster, also of Columbia, by 4 percentage points.

McMaster has the support of 47 percent of voters, the poll says, to Smith’s 43 percent, with 10 percent undecided.

The poll found McMaster is far better known than Smith — 89 percent said they recognized McMaster’s name compared to only 42 percent for Smith. But those surveyed did not have high opinions of the governor.

Only 39 percent said McMaster was a strong leader.

Only 38 percent said they had confidence in the Republican to put South Carolina ahead of politics.

Only 37 percent were confident the governor was honest.

Smith took the lead — 51-46 — after those surveyed were read a short description of the two candidates, the Democrat’s campaign said.

Smith was described by his military service in Afghanistan, his “frustration with the corruption and incompetence” in the state capital, and his “willingness to cross party lines and get things done.”

McMaster’s description highlighted his support for President Donald Trump, his work to “make South Carolina the best place to live, work and raise a family,” and to “create good-paying jobs, grow the economy, hold down taxes and take a stand against liberals.”

Smith spokesman Brad Warthen said the Garin-Hart-Yang polling firm sought to get a representative sampling of S.C. voters. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed said they had voted for Trump, compared to 55 percent of S.C. voters who cast a ballot for Trump in 2016.

“This was not us going out to get a result we liked,” Warthen said. “We wanted to get the information we need to win a campaign.”

But McMaster campaign spokeswoman Caroline Anderegg disputed the poll’s description of Smith as a moderate, noting the state representative has been endorsed by the Bernie Sanders-linked group Our Revolution, has signaled support for a government-backed single-payer health care system and supports abortion rights.

Anderegg said McMaster’s campaign is not releasing its own internal polls, but pointed to a poll by the Tarrance Group, done for the Republican Governors Association, that shows McMaster with a wider lead of Smith — 52-41.

“It’s just a total fantasy,” Anderegg said of Smith’s poll. “The RGA poll numbers don’t back that up ... and our numbers don’t back that up either.”

Warthen shot back that Smith’s reputation in the S.C. Legislature as a moderate speaks for itself. “James Smith is the same guy I’ve known for 22 years.”

The poll for Smith’s campaign was conducted between Aug. 6 and Aug. 9. It surveyed 605 likely S.C. voters by landline and cellphone, with a margin of error of 4.1 percent, the pollsters said.

The RGA poll was conducted between Aug. 11 and 13, and had a sample size of 601 likely voters. It also had a margin of error of 4.1 percent.