CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - A recent ABC News 4/Post and Courier poll shows Sen. Lindsey Graham has a solid lead among all South Carolina voters and that Thomas Ravenel's entry into the race did nothing to the senator's lead.
The recent Voter Survey Service poll shows Graham has a 13-point lead over Democrat Brad Hutto with 12 percent of voters undecided in the race when Ravenel is not included in the race.
However, when Ravenel is included, Graham's lead remains at 12 points over Hutto. Ravenel, who entered the race two week ago by filing the requisite 10,000 signatures with the state election commission, seems to pull most of his support from the other third party candidate at the still-undecided voters.
"Ravenel probably isn't a huge factor in November," said pollster James Lee of Ravenel's impact on the race.
Lee went on to say third party candidates "lose their luster" as Election Day draws near because voters still associate third parties with throwing away votes.
But the poll including Ravenel was conducted only days after he filed, so he's not had much time to generate broad, state-wide support for his campaign. At this point, the former state treasurer-turned-reality show celebrity is pulling in 10 percent of the vote, primarily from the Upstate, 12 percent of voters there, and the Lowcountry, 10 percent of voters.
"It remains to be seen whether Ravenel is a factor in this for the long haul," Lee said.
Ravenel responded to the poll's results early Friday morning, quoting John Paul Jones in saying he was just starting his battle for the Senate seat.
"I'm at ten percent and haven't spent a dime getting my message out. By contrast Lindsey Graham has spent $5 million getting his message out in the last few months and his approval rating is only 39 percent," Ravenel said.
"No one has ever seriously challenged him - he's never had to defend his votes for unnecessary wars, unnecessary government, anti-competitive tax hikes or liberal Supreme Court justices. I'm not only going to hold him accountable for those votes - I'm going to offer people a competing vision for the direction of this country."
Ravenel says he's willing to spend "whatever it takes" to show South Carolina voters the difference between him and Graham.
Hutto also has a tough road ahead if he wants to unseat Graham. Hutto is weak among self-identified Republicans and conservatives, but has the best chance to build a following that cuts into Graham's lead with moderates.The poll shows 49 percent of moderate voters side with Hutto, which is 18 points over Graham's support from the same group.
"My sense is although they don't feel he is a perfect conservative on issues like immigration reform and some other issues where they've questioned his credentials, the real issue in the federal race in this poll -- and this is very important in my opinion -- is the inverted job approval score of the incumbent president who is actually polling less today, who is actually less popular today than he was two years ago when he lost to Mitt Romney by 10 points," said Lee.
Lee said this election will likely be a referendum against Pres. Barack Obama and he expects Graham to link Hutto to the president's policies to ensure the win in November.
But Graham's approval rating is upside down, according to the poll.
There's a five-point split, 39-44, on Graham's approval and a lot of people on the far right are still upset with the way Graham has voted, but he did well in the primary where he had to fend off a number of challengers.
College of Charleston Political Science chair Gibbs Knotts points out Graham made it through the primary without being forced into a run-off, a difficult task given his approval ratings and the number of opponents.
But Graham maintains some degree of widespread approval in the hypothetical election.
"He's somebody I think some moderates will come out and support. He's a good general election candidate so he's going to get some people in the middle to vote for him," Knotts said.
South Carolina's other Senator, Tim Scott, has a good deal of the state's voters' approval. The ABC News 4/Post and Courier poll shows 48 percent of voters approve of his work - the same approval rating as the governor - while only 27 percent do not.
"Tim Scott even though he has not been elected to the Senate before, he seems like the most likely winner in November," said Post and Courier political reporter Robert Behre.
Scott was appointed to the seat after Jim DeMint announced he was stepping down.
"He looks really good. He's the hand-on favorite to win. The difference is there's still some folks waiting to decide on Scott. There are more undecideds, but that's to be expected because he hasn't been in office for quite as long," Knotts said.
Lee says much like the Graham race, challengers have a difficult uphill battle stemming from having a small campaign war chest and weak name recognition across the state.
"It's tough to conclude that he could really be defeated," Lee said. "It's hard to understand where the opposition could mount a credible campaign."
The poll was commissioned by ABC News 4 and the Post and Courier along with WYFF in Greenville, and WACHFox in Columbia. It was conducted by Voter Survey Service, a division of Susquehanna Polling and Research, from July 7-13 with 1,000 registered voters and July 16-20 with an additional 650 registered voters.
In order to be eligible to complete the survey respondents had to first indicate their likelihood of voting in the upcoming general election for Governor and U.S. Senate on Tuesday, Nov. 4. The full results include results from an automated system and live agent interviews to gather information from younger voters or people using only cellphones.
Each day this week, the Post and Courier and ABC News 4 will release more data from the Voter Survey Service poll, including information on U.S. Senate races, the direction of the state, and how big issues in other states are considered in South Carolina. ABC News 4 will release more information every night at 6 p.m. with follow-up coverage in the Post and Courier each morning.?