Among self-identified Republicans and GOP-leaning independents in a Winthrop University poll last month, he was at 71.6 percent approval.

Not surprisingly, no strong primary challenger to Graham has emerged. The anti-tax Club for Growth is keeping an eye on the race and will consider getting involved if a viable candidate surfaces, says spokesman Barney Keller. Graham scored 72 percent in the Club’s most recent report card, close to what the group considers a “bottom of the barrel” Republican. But “obviously you can’t beat someone with no one,” Keller says. GOP consultants in the state predict Graham will have an opponent, but probably a weak one.

One of the most marked trends in South Carolina politics is the fade of the tea party. Only 5.5 percent of registered voters in the state said they considered themselves tea party members in the Winthrop poll, down from 19.2 percent in October 2010. Back then, about half of registered voters said they agreed with tea party principles. In last month’s poll, only 24.1 percent said they approved of the movement…

Even as Graham tends to his right flank, demographics are shifting his way. In the Charleston area and the spillover suburbs of Charlotte, N.C., high-income, high-education retirees and workers are strengthening the more traditional wing of the Republican Party. “They certainly don’t want somebody who’s ideologically intractable. They like a conservative but broad minded approach,” says Huffmon. He says people like that could enlarge Graham’s base: “They’re receptive to his message, and he’s got the money to reach them.”