The Lindsey Graham Strategy

March 6, 2015 — According to a new poll a wide majority of South Carolina voters do not think that their senator, Lindsey Graham, should run for president, but their sentiments may not affect his political strategy.

Winthrop University released their latest poll results (Feb. 21-March 1; 1,109 SC adults; segmented into a smaller undisclosed number of registered voters) yesterday, and found that two-thirds of the registered voter universe and 56 percent of Palmetto State Republicans do not believe that Sen. Graham should run nationally. But, only entering his state’s primary – yet recent indications suggest that he currently views himself as more than a regional candidate – could bring him some valuable political capital if the 2016 GOP nomination ends up being decided through an open convention.

The Winthrop poll covered a great many issues and office holder favorability ratings. The question about Sen. Graham’s presidential aspirations was tangential, but it is clearly attracting the most attention in circulated press reports about the survey.

Increased speculation about Graham running has occurred since NBC/Marist College released their polls of specific states (Feb. 13-10; 887 likely South Carolina Republican primary voters) and found the senator polling under 20 percent in the South Carolina survey. But, his 17 percent preference was enough to lead all other candidates here, a place that features an important early primary.

South Carolina holds the third nominating event of the 2016 political season and, with 50 delegates, has the largest contingent of the four states permitted to conduct voting before March 1. In South Carolina and 14 other states, delegates are claimed through a combination of congressional district allocation and at-large voting. In each of the state’s seven CDs, three delegates apiece are apportioned to whomever places first in the specific district. Twenty-one of South Carolina’s 50 Republican delegates are allocated in this manner.

The remaining 29 delegates are at-large voters, and some have the freedom to vote as they choose while others are bound by state law under a complicated formula. Either way, the majority of these votes could benefit Graham.

South Carolina, like all other states, receives 10 at-large delegates in addition to three party leader votes (state chairman, national committeeman, and national committeewoman). The state also earns 10 bonus delegates because the Republican nominee carried its electoral votes in the last presidential election, and gains two for electing a pair of GOP Senators. Another bonus delegate is awarded because Republicans hold a majority within the congressional delegation, with individual delegate votes granted for electing a Governor and controlling both houses of the state legislature.

If Sen. Graham enters the race and were only to perform well in his home state, he would still likely control a block of delegates to make him a person of influence at the convention. Though he may not win the nomination, he, and other regional candidates like him, could be part of the group in an enviable position of determining who does claim victory.

If Graham enters the race and, at a minimum, secures a sizable number of early delegate commitments from South Carolina, then other long-shot potential candidates may follow suit in their own states. Such a progression would increase prospects that no one will receive majority backing before arriving in Cleveland for the national gathering in July of 2016. Thus, the open or “brokered” convention would commence.

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