Friday, January 18, 2008

McCain Stays On Top in South Carolina

Although there's been some tightening, John McCain remains on top in South Carolina's GOP primary, according to this morning's FOX News poll:

The new FOX News poll shows McCain holds onto his lead in South Carolina by capturing the support of 27 percent followed by Huckabee at 20 percent and Romney in third with 15 percent. Fred Thompson, who was hoping to perform well in a state neighboring his home state of Tennessee, receives 11 percent, up just two points from earlier in the month....

The telephone poll of 500 likely South Carolina Republican primary voters was conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation for FOX News from January 16 to January 17 (after the Michigan primary). There is a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

In a state with several military bases and more Vietnam veterans than any state in the country, McCain’s background as a Navy officer and a Vietnam veteran is a plus. Among those living in a military household, McCain has a double-digit advantage: 33 percent to Huckabee’s 18 percent and Romney’s 17 percent. Over half of likely Republican primary voters in the state live in a military household (52 percent).

The Wall Street Journal discusses McCain's political support among South Carolina's military families:

The McCain team has reason for optimism on the military front. Veterans carry heavy weight in South Carolina's Republican politics. They were 14% of the adult population in 2000, according to the Census Bureau, but 27% of voters in the Republican primary, according to exit polls. Though Mr. McCain lost South Carolina to George W. Bush in 2000 by 53% to 42%, he won the veteran vote 48% to 47%, according to exit polls.

South Carolina is home to 400,000 veterans, according to the Census Bureau. It has high numbers of military personnel stationed in-state and abroad. Almost 29,000 active-duty soldiers claim the state as their legal residence, making up about 1% of its population -- only nine states have a higher percentage. And there are 66,000 soldiers stationed here, constituting about 2% of its adult population, greater than all but eight states.

At campaign stops yesterday, Mr. McCain hammered home his pro-military message about caring for the troops, resolving the Iraq war and improving veterans' health care. He spoke glowingly of the 2,000 South Carolina National Guard and reserve troops who are in Afghanistan and called out veterans in the audience.

And as he often does on the stump, he read a quote from George Washington about the importance of looking after veterans. "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, will be directly proportional as to how they perceived the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their country," Mr. McCain said, echoing President Washington.

That message plays well with voters such as Gary Wells, 73 years old, a Greenville resident and veteran who said he served as a Russian linguist in military intelligence in Berlin during the Cold War. He came to a McCain event in Greenville yesterday undecided between Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney. But he liked what Mr. McCain "said about the veterans and the military," particularly the senator's plan to give veterans an insurance card for routine visits to be used at any doctor, rather than having to go to Veterans Administration hospitals, he said. Mr. Wells calls VA hospitals "really horrible."

The FOX poll also shows McCain pulling out a big lead with political independents - who were a significant factor in the Arizona Senator's New Hampshire win - and a slight lead with Republicans:

Among independents voting in the Republican primary on Saturday, McCain bests Huckabee by a wide 20 point margin (34 percent to 14 percent). Independents helped McCain achieve his victory in New Hampshire, and this swing voting group can also vote in either primary in South Carolina.

McCain also has a narrow 4-point advantage over Huckabee among self-identified Republicans.

The final result tomorrow will depend on Huckabee's ability to siphon some of McCain's support among these groups. The former Arkansas governor's got the religious vote pretty well locked up.

Photo: CBS News