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With the race for the Republican Senate nomination heating up in South Carolina, state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum (D) released a poll Friday showing her with a lead over the three top GOP candidates.

The closest race is between Tenenbaum and former Gov. David Beasley (R); she holds a 46 percent to 41 percent edge.

She also carried a 7-point margin over former state Attorney General Charlie Condon (R) and a 15-point lead on Rep. Jim DeMint (R). The fourth serious Republican candidate, wealthy real estate developer Thomas Ravenel, was not included in the poll.

The poll, which was conducted by Harrison Hickman, was in the field March 14-18, testing 700 registered voters. It had a 3.7 percent margin of error.

DeMint was the first candidate on the air, having started his television campaign Wednesday with a biography spot. The ad buy is just more than 550 points, meaning the average viewer will see the ad roughly five times in a week.

Condon will join the television battle Tuesday, according to knowledgeable sources.

The ad, a script of which was obtained by Roll Call on Friday, highlights Condon’s opposition to excessive government spending, a major theme of his campaign to this point.

“Charlie Condon wants to stop out-of-control Washington spending,” says the commercial’s narrator, adding that spending is up 44 percent over the past three years.

The ad makes note of recent appropriations for the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and an indoor rainforest in Iowa.

Condon appears at the commercial’s conclusion saying he is “tired of waiting for the smaller government the politicians always promise us.”

The Tenenbaum poll provides a first look at the results of a head-to-head contest between herself and Beasley, who only formally entered the race in early February.

“South Carolinians know Inez, like her and are prepared to support her no matter who the Republican nominee is — even a former governor,” said Tenenbaum spokesman Adam Kovacevich. “This race will be won among independents, and she’s off to a significant lead among those voters.”

In the poll, Tenenbaum held a 43 percent to 37 percent lead over Beasley among self-identifying independents; she led Condon 42 percent to 36 percent and DeMint 47 percent to 21 percent in that demographic.

In the Republican contest, conventional wisdom dictates that DeMint, Condon and Ravenel are competing for a spot in the June 22 runoff with Beasley due to the former governor’s name identification edge, an idea affirmed in Tenenbaum’s poll. If no Republican gets 50 percent of the vote in the June 8 primary, the top two votegetters move on to the runoff.

Beasley, who served as Palmetto State governor from 1994 to 1998, had the highest name recognition (88 percent) of any of the candidates tested.

Condon was recognized by 78 percent, likely due to his 2002 gubernatorial bid, in which he placed a distant third, and his eight years as the state’s top cop.

DeMint, currently in his third term representing the Up Country 4th district, is the least known of the three Republicans tested. Only 63 percent of voters were familiar with his name.

Tenenbaum was only slightly less well-known than Beasley, with a name recognition score of 82 percent.

The South Carolina seat is being vacated by Sen. Fritz Hollings (D) after six full terms. It is one of five Southern open Senate seats that Democrats must defend in November.

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