South Carolina's GOP battle for the 2010 gubernatorial nomination has only just begun (only one candidate has formally announced) and polls show a wide open race.

Third District Rep. Gresham Barrett announced earlier this month he would seek the job, and a recent poll shows that while he isn't recognized as well as two of his potential competitors, he is in a tight race with Attorney General Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.

Neither Bauer nor McMaster has jumped in the race, but both have expressed interest.

The poll, which Barrett's campaign commissioned from Ayres McHenry & Associates Inc., shows Bauer with the most name recognition but with a 30 percent unfavorable rating, while McMaster's name is recognized by about three-fourths of likely GOP voters, and only 9 percent have an unfavorable view of him.

Richard Quinn, a political consultant to McMaster, said their poll taken in early January shows McMaster with broad name recognition and support from all demographic groups across the state.

"Approximately half felt it was too early to make a pick," Quinn said, but McMaster led the other candidates among those who were prepared to say who they were for.

Jim Miles, Bauer's chief of staff, said Thursday that Bauer isn't in the gubernatorial race now. "He is doing the job he was elected to do, which is to try and figure out how we can create jobs for people in this state and protecting seniors from scams and frauds."

While his potential opponents have run and won statewide races, Barrett has not campaigned outside his congressional district, which stretches from Aiken to Oconee counties. The Ayers poll shows that while the race is close now, voters tend to break toward Barrett once they learn more about him.

If Barrett can raise enough money to reach state GOP voters, "he has an excellent chance to win the Republican nomination for governor," consultant Whit Ayres concluded.

But Quinn noted that Barrett faces a serious liability because of his support for last year's controversial $700 billion federal bailout plan, which is a sore spot among the state's Republicans.

The Democratic field is firm, as only state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, has made moves toward running.