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Lindsey Graham’s embrace of Trump working with home state GOP voters, new poll finds

Republican senator won 56 percent of primary votes in 2014, third-lowest among incumbent senators

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has cozied up to the president in recent months, which has boosted his polling numbers among Republican voters in his state. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has cozied up to the president in recent months, which has boosted his polling numbers among Republican voters in his state. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Lindsey Graham’s embrace of President Donald Trump appears to be paying political dividends, a new poll found.

The South Carolina Republican’s approval rating among Republicans and those who lean Republican in his state stands at 74 percent, according to a new Winthrop University survey released Thursday.

Graham’s support for Trump and his rising numbers comes as he faces re-election in 2020.

“Graham’s approval has benefited from his defense of, and alignment with, President Trump,” Winthrop Poll director Scott Huffmon said in a statement.

Graham’s approval rating among Republican and likely Republicans has risen by 24 percent in less than two years in Winthrop polls. In one released in April 2017, less than 50 percent of such people surveyed said they approved of Graham.

Trump’s approval rating in the Palmetto State stood at 42 percent, 3 points higher than Gallup’s national average of 39 percent. Among residents who identify as Republican or lean that way, 82 percent say they support the president.

“While Graham’s numbers used to lag those of other Republicans among GOP identifiers, since he has taken up the President’s banner on most every issue, his approval among Republicans in South Carolina has steadily risen,” Huffmon wrote.

After calling then-candidate Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot” in 2015, Graham has cozied up to the president over the last year. He delivered an impassioned speech in the Senate Judiciary Committee last fall to help secure Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and he has abandoned his moderate roots on immigration in favor of the White House’s hardline policies.

He has repeatedly declined to call Trump out for many of the president’s over-the-top statements.

Even after Trump continued lambasting the late GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona on Wednesday at an off-script speech in Lima, Ohio, on Wednesday, Graham, who counts himself as one of McCain’s best friends in the Senate, issued what critics panned as a muted response.

“I think the president’s comments about Sen. McCain hurt him more than they hurt the legacy of Sen. McCain. I’m going to try to continue to help the president,” Graham told reporters in South Carolina on Wednesday.

Graham added that he has gotten to know Trump on a personal level and has a good working relationship with him.

“I like him,” Graham said.

It’s statements like that that have helped boost his favorability rating among Republican voters in his home state by shoring up the conservative base. Graham avoided a runoff in South Carolina’s 2014 Republican primary by just 6 points.

The 56 percent of the primary vote he captured in 2014 was third-lowest among incumbent senators running for re-election that cycle.

 But lately, “The only rumblings I’ve heard is the sound of any potential challengers mentioned six months ago running for the hills,” Walter Whetsell, a veteran South Carolina GOP consultant, told the Post & Courier.

Callers for the Winthrop poll surveyed 1,007 adult residents in South Carolina by landline and cell phone in late February and March. 

The full survey’s margin of error is approximately +/- 3.1 percent at the 95% confidence level. The margins of error of different subsets of the people surveyed — such as among respondents who said they were Republican or lean Republican — are larger.

Watch: Lindsey Graham’s tearful tribute to John McCain

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