Politics & Government

McMaster has big lead in SC governor’s race against Democrat James Smith, poll says

Who will be SC’s next governor? Here’s what you need to know

Henry McMaster and James Smith are the two candidates for South Carolina Governor in the 2018 midterm elections on November 6.
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Henry McMaster and James Smith are the two candidates for South Carolina Governor in the 2018 midterm elections on November 6.

A new poll released Friday shows Republican S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster with a big lead over his Democratic challenger, state Rep. James Smith, with just days left until Tuesday’s midterm election.

McMaster heads into Tuesday with a 16-point lead over Smith, according to the new poll by the Trafalgar Group, a conservative Atlanta-based firm.

Of 3,792 likely S.C. voters — polled early this week — 54.3 percent support McMaster and 38.1 percent plan to vote Smith. Only 7.6 percent of those surveyed — using email, cellphones and land lines — said they were undecided ahead of Tuesday’s election. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points and a 95 percent confidence level.

“Undecideds are breaking some, not surprising, and going to Smith,” said pollster Robert Cahaly, a senior strategist with the Trafalgar Group. “Also, there’s significant enough Democratic spending in the 1st Congressional District” race — between Democrat Joe Cunningham and Republican state Rep. Katie Arrington — to shift some support to Smith.

McMaster’s lead has decreased by 1.2 points since Trafalgar’s last poll was conducted in mid-October.

“I would have thought with the debates and Smith spending a significant amount of money on TV” there would be a shift, Cahaly said. “Both have now happened and haven’t moved (the numbers) that much.”

The Smith campaign dismissed the poll on Friday, citing previous polling during the primary that did not reflect the end result.

“He (Cahaly) had some very inaccurate predictions in the Republican primary and he was super wrong about James Smith in the primary,” said Smith’s campaign spokesman Brad Warthen. “They showed him in a three-way tie. He won with 62 percent. We don’t put a lot of credence in it. We certainly urge our voters to turn out on Tuesday and then we’ll see who won.”

Both candidates hit the road this week, making a last-ditch bid to win over any undecided voters.

But the race already may be over, observers say, citing McMaster’s decades-long name recognition and the national political climate. President Donald Trump, who has endorsed McMaster, remains a popular figure among S.C. Republicans.

The latest Winthrop Poll released on Thursday puts McMaster’s approval rating at 51 percent. Only 29 percent of those surveyed disapproved of the governor.

“McMaster hasn’t had to get Trump to come in or (Vice President Mike) Pence in the general (election), even though it’s laying right there that he (McMaster) is a Trump man,” said political scientist Neal Thigpen, a self-described moderate Republican and professor emeritus at Francis Marion University.

“In statewide races, I don’t find a heck of a lot of interest in the general campaign here. This will be a routine Republican ... victory.”

Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657, @MaayanSchechter
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