Reliable recent polling would seem to indicate the race for governor of South Carolina is over before it really begins …
But is it?
A new survey from the Palmetto State’s fourth congressional district (map) has provided a glimmer of hope to Democrat James Smith in his bid to upset Republican incumbent Henry McMaster next month. According to the survey – conducted by a national Republican firm out of Arlington, Virginia – McMaster is supported by only 40.15 percent of likely voters in this conservative enclave compared to 36.25 percent for Smith.
That’s a margin of less than four percent … in the heart of “GOP country.”
Another 6.75 percent indicated they were supporting someone else for governor, while 16.85 percent indicated they were undecided about the race.
According to our sources, the survey was conducted between October 3-5 using a mix of land lines and cell phones. No margin of error was provided for the data, which was one reason its results were immediately called into question by two Palmetto pollsters with whom we spoke confidentially.
(Click to view)
(Via: McMaster for Governor)
Among other concerns, these pollsters wondered whether the data took into account the extent to which McMaster (above) will benefit from straight ticket voters – who are expected to turn out en masse following the contentious confirmation of U.S. supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The pollsters also questioned which “other” candidates could be drawing 6.75 percent support given that there are no well-known third party campaigns participating in this race (a major oversight on the part of Democrats eager to win their first statewide election in a dozen years).
An American Party filed for the office, but was not certified to appear on the ballot. Meanwhile the only announced write-in candidate in the race is substantially south of credible. Which is a charitable assessment.
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So … what do we make of this data?
At first glance, we are inclined to accept the wisdom of the pollsters with whom we spoke – both of whom debunked the validity of these numbers. And while the district-wide survey we were shown is in line with other polls that show S.C. senator William Timmons with a commanding lead in his congressional race, the gubernatorial data it produced certainly seems to be an outlier.
There is another factor to consider, though.
As readers will recall, McMaster was trounced in the fourth district during the 2018 GOP runoff election back in June. Upstate businessman John Warren cleaned the incumbent’s clock in Greenville and Spartanburg counties, drawing 71 percent and 60 percent of the vote, respectively.
(Click to view)
(Via: Warren for Governor)
Given how well Warren (above) did in the fourth district, it would not surprise us at all to learn that McMaster – who was dragged across the finish line this spring by U.S. president Donald Trump – is struggling in the Upstate, which traditionally provides GOP candidates with their statewide margin of victory.
Do we believe Upstate voters will ultimately abandon him for Smith? Or in lieu of that, do we believe they will sit on their hands in sufficient numbers so as to deny him his first four-year term in office?
No … and no.
Especially not with the Kavanaugh circus fueling straight ticket GOP voting.
Still, McMaster’s weakness in the Upstate is worth watching as we approach Election Day (November 6). It will also be worth watching how he performs in the fourth district compared to prior GOP governors Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley. Same goes for the third district (map), another staunchly Republican enclave where Warren performed exceedingly well – defeating McMaster in Anderson, Laurens, Oconee and Pickens counties.
Along with Greenville and Spartanburg, these are counties that provide the GOP ticket with its decisive statewide electoral advantage over Democrats.
Prior to the Kavanaugh drama, this news outlet had been projecting a six-point McMaster victory in November. So far we have seen nothing to suggest our prediction is off the mark, but we will obviously keep an eye out for fresh data as this race enters its final four weeks.
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