Yesterday we put out a poll on Lindsey Graham's standing with the entire South Carolina electorate. Today we narrow it down to those describing themselves as regular Republican primary voters.
52% of them say that given the choice they'd pick a more conservative challenger in the 2014 GOP primary, compared to only 37% who say they'd support Graham under that scenario. It's a pretty simple calculus- Graham leads 47-40 on that question with Republicans who say they don't consider themselves to be members of the Tea Party but he trails 76-18 with folks who identify with that movement. The Tea Party faction of the Republican Party has become more and more powerful since Graham dispatched a relatively weak primary challenger in 2008 and if the fever doesn't die down over the next three years he's going to be in serious trouble in a primary.
One person Graham doesn't have to worry about too much as a potential challenger though is Mark Sanford. Graham leads the former Governor 52-34 in a hypothetical contest, holding an advantage with both moderates and conservatives. It appears that Sanford's personal indiscretions outweigh Graham's ideological indiscretions with the Republican electorate- even among GOP voters 46% say there's no way they'd ever support Sanford for office in the future, compared to just 14% who say they'd be firmly behind him.
Graham trails though in a match up against another of South Carolina's somewhat notorious Republicans, Joe Wilson of 'you lie' fame. Wilson leads Graham 43-41 in a hypothetical contest, winning the conservative voters who dominate Republican primaries in the state by a 52-31 margin.
Graham actually has slightly positive approval numbers with Republican primary voters at 42% happy with his performance to 40% who disapprove. But those numbers are far, far worse than Mike Castle's and Lisa Murkowski's were with GOP primary voters in their states and that didn't stop them from being taken out in the primary.
Certainly a lot will change between now and 2014- Graham may be able to assuage the conservative base between now and then or the fever for a Tea Party purge may die down, especially if Barack Obama wins reelection because Republicans nominate someone seen as outside the mainstream. But Graham would be in deep, deep trouble if he was up this cycle and time is about the only thing he has on his side when its comes to reckoning with the GOP electorate in his home state.
Full results here