Nikki Haley, South Carolina Republicans' pick for governor, leads her Democratic opponent by 17 points, according to polling conducted this week and released Friday.
A Rasmussen Reports poll shows Haley, a Lexington state representative, with 50 percent support in an automated telephone survey of 500 likely S.C. voters. Kershaw state Sen. Vincent Sheheen is preferred by 33 percent of those voters polled. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
The results show Haley maintaining a commanding lead a little more than a month before election day despite a string of revelations about Haley chronically paying her personal income taxes late and her family's business being fined by the IRS for failing to pay payroll taxes.
Rasmussen has polled S.C. voters at least once a month since June, and Sheheen has never been closer than 12 points.
In this snapshot of voter preferences, Haley is dominating Sheheen. Sixty-two percent of voters hold a favorable view of her, while 47 percent hold a favorable view of Sheheen. Among independent voters, Haley holds a 10-point lead, and her party is rallying behind her candidacy. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans say they'll vote for Haley, while 69 percent of Democrats say they will vote for Sheheen.
So does Sheheen have a problem with Democrats?
"Actually, we know that Vincent is very much closing the deal with Democrats," said Carol Fowler, chairwoman of the S.C. Democratic Party. "The hundreds of thousands of calls we are making across the state tell a very different story from what the Rasmussen people reported."
Fowler said the Rasmussen poll skews Republican because the likely voters it polls tend to be older and white, voters more likely to be Republican.
The Sheheen campaign also took issue with the poll, arguing there are far more undecided voters than the poll indicates. South Carolinians will be making up their minds over the next five weeks, said Sheheen campaign spokeswoman Kristin Cobb.
"We are just learning who the real Nikki Haley is," said Cobb. This week the Sheheen campaign launched a TV ad detailing Haley's tax troubles.
Mike Lee, a political scientist at the College of Charleston, said Sheheen has at least one reason to be worried. Sheheen had 40 percent support in a June Rasmussen survey, Lee points out, and he has dropped to 33 percent support at a time when an underdog candidate wants to see improvement.
"It seems like [the Sheheen campaign] is treading water," Lee said. "The seven points [Sheheen lost] is a little more concerning" than the margin of Haley's lead.
The Haley campaign, noting its big lead, expects to see a more aggressive Sheheen in the coming weeks.
"Voters should expect even more desperate false attacks from the Sheheen campaign in the days ahead," said Rob Godfrey, Haley campaign spokesman.