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EXCLUSIVE: SC GOP voters prefer Trump, Carson; most say Graham should drop out

AP

Most S.C. Republican primary voters want a president with no prior elected political experience, according to a new poll released Tuesday to The State.

A Public Policy Polling survey found Donald Trump would win 37 percent of the vote from S.C. Republicans and Ben Carson would pick up 21 percent. The rest of the crowded GOP field of 17 candidates was struggling in the single digits.

Trump dominated other GOP candidates in one-on-one match-ups — except for Carson. The soft-spoken, retired Maryland neurosurgeon edged the outspoken New York real-estate mogul and reality-TV star by 1 percentage point – a statistical tie.

Neither Trump nor Carson ever has held political office before. Another GOP political newcomer, former Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina, was favored by 4 percent of S.C. GOP primary voters, Public Policy found. All told, 62 percent of S.C. Republican voters said they favored a newcomer — Trump, Carson or Fiorina.

When asked about the state’s own “favorite son,” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, nearly four out of five S.C. GOP primary voters said the Seneca Republican should drop out of the presidential race.

“What you’re seeing to some extent in South Carolina and nationally is Donald Trump and Ben Carson are sucking all the wind out of the air,” said Tom Jensen, Public Policy Polling’s director.

Among S.C. Democrats, Hillary Clinton remains the top choice — at 54 percent — though Vice President Joe Biden has gained on the former secretary of state amid speculation he may enter the race.

Public Policy Polling surveyed 764 Republican and 302 Democratic primary voters in South Carolina from Sept. 3-6. The margins of error are plus or minus 3.6 percent for the GOP poll and 5.6 percent for the Democratic survey.

Trump’s popularity is higher in South Carolina than in any other state that Public Policy has polled and spans ideological camps within the GOP, Jensen said.

But the polls now likely do not reflect how voters will cast their ballots in the state’s Feb. 20 GOP primary, Jensen said.

At 80 percent, opposition to Graham’s presidential ambitions has increased, Public Policy found. In March, 57 percent of S.C. Republicans said Graham should not run for president in a Winthrop Poll.

The Winthrop Poll suggested some opponents of a Graham presidential bid still approved of the senator's job performance. At the time, some poll participants said they would rather Graham remain a senator, Winthrop Poll director Scott Huffmon said.

However, the Public Policy poll shows Graham’s presidential campaign has hurt the senator at home, Jensen said, noting Graham’s approval rating has fallen to 36 percent from 54 percent in a February Public Policy poll.

Three percent of the GOP voters surveyed said they would vote for Graham, down from 13 percent in the firm’s February poll.

“It’s pretty remarkable to have folks that unified around the idea of Lindsey Graham dropping out,” Jensen said.

The Graham campaign declined to comment Tuesday on the poll. Graham has said he hopes to do well in New Hampshire and South Carolina, paying his $40,000 filing fee last week to be on his home state’s primary ballot.

On the Democratic side, 24 percent of S.C. Democratic primary voters said they would vote for Biden for president. That is up from the 18 percent in a February Public Policy poll.

Nine percent of S.C. Democratic primary voters said they would pick U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, as their nominee in last weekend’s survey – consistent with polls this summer.

Sanders’ challenge in South Carolina will be appealing to minorities who make up most of the Democratic electorate, Jensen said.

“It’s not that African Americans don’t like him,” Jensen said of Sanders, who will visit a historically black college in Columbia Saturday. “They just don’t know him.”

In the poll, 32 percent of African Americans gave Sanders a favorable rating, compared to the more than 70 percent favorability ratings given Biden and Clinton.

But, Jensen noted, nearly half of African Americans said they did not know Sanders well enough to judge his performance.

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658

Polling in SC

GOP presidential primary

37 percent: Donald Trump

21 percent: Ben Carson

6 percent: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas

4 percent: Carly Fiorina, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida

3 percent: U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of Seneca, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

2 percent: Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania

1 percent: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Not registering: Former New York Gov. George Pataki, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore

Democratic presidential primary

54 percent: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

24 percent: Vice President Joe Biden

9 percent: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont

2 percent: Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia

1 percent: Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee

SOURCE: Public Policy Polling

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