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New poll: Nikki Haley solidifying lead in South Carolina governor's race

Bill Davis
Editor, StateHouse Report (SC)

October 22, 2010

A new InsiderAdvantage/Statehouse Report poll released today suggests that South Carolina may well see a Republican sweep of all constitutional offices in the Nov. 2 general election.
That’s each of the nine statewide offices – from governor to the comptroller general and on down the ballot to the commissioner of agriculture.
The poll, conducted among 878 registered voters Tuesday night, shows a Democrat leading in only one race – Greenville lawyer and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Frank Holleman in the race for superintendent of education.
Two other races may get tighter, lieutenant governor and, possibly, the governor’s race, as polling has been all over the place in the latter contest.
With a week and a half to go until the election, state Rep. Nikki Haley (R-Lexington) seems to have regained her lead over her Democratic challenger, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Kershaw County, according to the new poll.
It shows nearly 51 percent of registered voters who responded said they would most likely vote for Haley if the election were held on Oct. 19; just over 37 percent said they’d pull the lever marked Sheheen.  Three percent said they'd vote for Green Party candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves.  Almost 9 percent were undecided.

So what does it all mean?
Other recent polls have given Haley everything from a 17-percent lead -- from a pollster considered by some to be more favorable to Republicans -- to as little as 4 percent, according to a poll done by a firm some consider more aligned with Democrats.
Erskine College political scientist Ashley Woodiwiss said this week after reviewing the InsiderAdvantage/Statehouse Report poll that if Sheheen can’t break through in the two remaining debates with Haley, then “the Democrats will lose their best chance at re-taking the governor’s mansion.”
Woodiwiss praised Sheheen’s candidacy, but intoned that it may have been doomed from the beginning, saying, “This is an election season in which the Democratic Party will likely be routed nationally, and in this prevailing mood, [Sheheen’s] uphill climb becomes even steeper.”
Haley’s nearly 14-point lead at this point may be insurmountable, but there are critics of results from any poll that uses interactive voice response methodology, as this one did.
One, the poll used auto-dialers which don’t call cell phones -- arguably a disadvantage for Democratic results, as it may exclude some younger voters or minorities, according to some expert critics.
Two, the poll only interviewed registered voters and not “likely” voters, making it a less than perfect barometer for voter passion, which could have a major effect in a race where the front-runner has not received uniform support from her own party.

Holleman's lead might actually be a little bigger
As a result, Holleman may have a slightly bigger lead over former Newberry College president and retired GOP Brigadier Gen. Mick Zais for superintendent of education.
The poll has Holleman leading by nearly 2.5 percentage points over Zais, but it also has nearly one in six respondents reporting that they “don’t know” who’d they’d vote for at this point.
Woodiwiss referred to Holleman as the “token” Democrat, but that presence of a large percentage of undecided voters could sway the final results.
If the undecideds vote for the Democratic candidate, as that party has generally held an edge in education issues, then Holleman could win big.
But if those undecideds vote along the state’s usual conservative voting patterns, that race is going to go down to the wire.

Holleman, running to fill the only constitutional office held by a fellow Democrat, seems to be well-positioned for a tight final week, as he has had a major late-campaign influx of donations, which could lead to major media buys.
Lieutenant governor's race tighter than some thought

Winthrop political scientist Scott Huffmon, who helps oversee that school’s influential political polls, said that while Holleman is “fighting tooth and nail” to retain his lead, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Ashley Cooper was within “striking distance” of Republican Ken Ard.
But, Huffmon warned, partisanship voting will make it doubly difficult for Cooper, trailing Ard by less than five points, to make up any ground.
Huffmon said Sheheen’s best chance to stop the GOP landslide would be to provide Republicans looking for a reason not to vote for Haley an option, by distancing himself from his national party and looking “as un-Democratic” as possible.
As if on cue, Sheheen’s latest television ad features him hunting, dressed in camouflage, and talking about gun rights.
Haley’s latest commercial labels Sheheen as a Columbia insider and a companion ad from the Republican Governors Association labeled him an “Obama liberal in our own backyard.”

Crystal ball:  Even if Sheheen goes all out – and goes massively negative, – he will still likely lose. And if undecideds vote like they usually do, and the InsiderAdvantage/Statehouse Report poll was foolproof, then Holleman may well lose, too, making for an all-Republican statewide leadership. This worries Woodiwiss, who pointed out that only 22.3 percent of those polled thought the state was headed in the right direction. Why then, Woodiwiss, do so many want to return the executive leadership to office “that has been in power for the past eight years?” Nearly 49 percent polled said the state was headed in the wrong direction.

For complete results of the poll, see http://www.statehousereport.com/



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