It didn't get a lot of attention but South Carolina was actually relatively close in the 2008 Presidential election- Barack Obama came closer to winning there than John McCain came to winning traditional battlegrounds like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, and New Mexico. Benefiting from the weakness of the Republican candidate field Obama appears at this early stage to be in position to come even closer to winning this time around, and he could win the state if the GOP nominates a particularly weak candidate.
Obama's approval rating in the state is 44% with 52% of voters disapproving. Those numbers track pretty well with his nine point margin of defeat in 2008. He has the Democratic base firmly behind him at 89% approval. That's no small feat in a state where traditionally Democrats have been unusually conservative but I guess you could also argue that's a measure of the exodus of those conservative Democrats to the independent or Republican ranks. GOP voters unsurprisingly give Obama almost no support at all, with just 8% approving and 89% disapproving. And independents lean against Obama by a 39/54 spread.
Obama may not be popular in South Carolina but he's more well liked than a couple of the leading Republican considering the race. Only 32% of voters in the state have a favorable opinion of Newt Gingrich, compared to 46% who view him unfavorably. And Sarah Palin's worse off than that with just 34% rating her positively compared to 58% with a negative opinion of her. Because of Gingrich and Palin's intense unpopularity Obama actually leads both of them in head to heard match ups. It's 47-41 over Palin and 44-43 over Gingrich.
The numbers with independents in South Carolina are really telling when it comes to the viability of either a Palin or Gingrich candidacy. They don't like Obama, with only 39% approving of him to 54% who disapprove. But he leads Gingrich by 4 and Palin by 18 with them anyway because they consider him at least to be a better alternative than them. That speaks to one of the greatest truths about this year's race- Obama is certainly vulnerable but a lot of the horses looking at the Republican race aren't going to be able to capitalize on that vulnerability.
Another pair of potential Republican candidates are better liked in the state and lead Obama by healthy margins, if smaller ones than the GOP is accustomed to winning the Presidential race by in South Carolina. 48% of voters have a favorable opinion of Mike Huckabee to 32% with an unfavorable one and he leads Obama 49-43. Mitt Romney gets good ratings from 42% of voters while 34% see him negatively and he has a 49-42 advantage over the President.
We also tested Jim DeMint against Obama. DeMint has very solid approval numbers with 49% of voters giving him good marks to just 34% who disapprove. He has near unanimous support from the Republican base and the favor of maybe a surprisingly high 19% of Democrats. But matched up with the President he leads only 47-45. That suggests a pretty high level of ambivalence about DeMint going for the White House from voters in the state, whether the cause of that is people not thinking he's suited for the office or just that they'd like to see him serve out his Senate term.
Republicans should be fine in South Carolina next year so long as they nominate a mainstream candidate. But if they go with one of their weaker ones I'm sure Obama and national Democrats would consider the state to be quite a trophy as part of a national landslide.
Full results here