Republicans are favored to keep the Governor's office in South Carolina under their party's control this fall but with most of the candidates still a blank slate to many voters in the state, Democrats at least have a shot at keeping it.
The poll, conducted before Monday's allegations of an extramarital affair, found Nikki Haley as the strongest candidate for the general election. She led Jim Rex 45-36 and Vincent Sheheen 44-34. In both matches she won independents by a healthy margin and won over more Democrats than she lost Republicans, an easy formula for victory in a GOP leaning state like South Carolina.
Doing next best against the Democrats was Henry McMaster, with a 42-36 advantage over Rex and a 43-36 one over Sheheen. Gresham Barrett also leads both the Democrats, although it's only by a 38-36 margin against Rex. Pitted against Sheheen it broadens to 43-33.
The best hope for Democrats remains if Andre Bauer could somehow come from behind to snag the GOP nomination. They both lead him with independents even as they simultaneously trail all of the other Republicans with them. While Sheheen and Rex can get only 5-11% of the Republican vote against Haley, McMaster, or Barrett they get 12-16% against Bauer. What it adds up to is a 40-38 Rex lead and a 38-38 Sheheen tie when they're matched against Bauer.
The Democratic candidates may have some room to grow. Right now neither of them is as well known as any of the Republican contenders. 67% of voters don't know enough about Sheheen to have formed an opinion and despite a term in statewide office 62% are ambivalent toward Rex as well. The eventual nominee's name recognition will obviously pick up by the fall and that could provide an opportunity to pick up more support.
Most of the Republicans candidates really aren't that well known either. 57% have no opinion about Barrett, 45% didn't have one about Haley when the poll was conducted, and 41% don't have one about McMaster. The only candidate with greater than 60% name recognition is Bauer and for him it's not a good thing as 50% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of him to only 21% with a positive one.
All things being equal a Republican is going to get elected as Governor of South Carolina, and that's what the poll numbers right now reflect with the contenders largely unknown. But candidates do matter and if the Democratic nominee ends up being far superior in the general election to the Republican one the party could pick this up. It may come down to whether the GOP nominates one of its 'safe' candidates in McMaster or Barrett or one of its 'riskier' ones in Bauer or Haley.
Full results here