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Keeping an eye on South Carolina

Here’s a story line you’re not hearing a lot this midterm cycle: Keep an eye on a possible sleeper Democratic candidate in a ruby-red state.

A new poll from Winthrop Universityshows South Carolina Republican gubernatorial nominee Nikki Haley leading Democrat Vincent Sheheen by nine points. But Sheheen is performing slightly better than Haley among independents, and Haley’s support is comparatively softer, making this a race worth keeping on the political radar in the run up to Election Day.

“Nine points is a lot, but it is not insurmountable for Sheheen,” said Dr. Scott Huffmon, the director of the Winthrop Poll.

The key data point in the survey, which shows Haley leading Sheheen 46 percent to 37 percent, considers how sure each candidate’s supporters are about who they will back on Election Day. About 26 percent of Haley supporters said they might change their minds before the election, compared to 18 percent of Sheheen supporters who said their vote wasn’t definite.

Huffmon believes that most “soft” Haley supporters – who are overwhelmingly Republican – will eventually support the GOP candidate in the race. But, he said, the numbers indicate that voters may have lingering doubts about her as a candidate, regardless of her party affiliation.

“Six months ago, if you’d run generic numbers – for a generic Democrat and a generic Republican – there would have been a much larger spread in this race,” Huffmon said. “The fact that it’s in single digits now means that this race is a lot closer than people thought.”

The results of the poll come as a political blogger’s unsubstantiated charges of an affair with Haley are popping up again in press reports. Will Folks, who alleges that he had a romantic relationship with Haley, submitted an affidavit to a newly founded anti-Haley group called Conservatives for Truth in Politics detailing what he called “romantic encounters” with the state representative prior to 2007. No demonstrable proof of the truth of his allegations -- or of separate charges by lobbyist Larry Marchant, who claims he had a one night stand with Haley -- have been presented.

Another tidbit from Winthrop, by the way: Democratic Senate nominee Alvin Greene, who made national headlines after his fluky victory in the Democratic primary in June, is polling below the state’s Green Party candidate, Tom Clements. The two candidates are both mired in the low double digits, almost 50 points behind incumbent Republican Sen. Jim DeMint.

The telephone survey of 741 likely voters was conducted between Oct. 5 and Oct. 10. The margin of error is 3.6 percent.