Around the U.S. in 50 Days: South Carolina

Politics in South Carolina is not for the faint of heart. In 1978, a stooge third party candidate was created to hurl anti-Semitic remarks against a Democratic House candidate. There was the 1980 campaign of Strom Thurmond orchestrated by noted operative and South Carolina native, Lee Atwater, that added the phrase “push polling” to the political lexicon. Everyone is familiar with the strategy employed by the Reagan campaign to discredit Geraldine Ferraro. In 1988, after Tom Foley became Speaker of the House, the RNC under Atwater’s leadership, questioned his conservative credentials by stating he was “in the closet,” a phrase that also questioned his sexuality. In 2000, the whisper campaign directed against John McCain left South Carolina primary voters believing his wife was a drug addict and that he fathered an illegitimate black child. McCain never recovered and Bush went on to win. As technology grew in importance, the practice of “robocalls” were perfected in South Carolina. Lest anyone think that the GOP has a monopoly on this, in the aftermath of Obama’s primary victory, race was injected into the Clinton-Obama contest after a historically accurate and non-racial observation by Bill Clinton that Jesse Jackson had also won in South Carolina at one time. In 2010, as Governor Mark Sanford was hiking the Appalachian Trail by way of Argentina, a relatively obscure state politician, Nikki Haley, rose to prominence but not before staving off unsubstantiated allegations of affairs which depicted her as nothing less than a whore, let alone a “rag head.”

And to say that race does not play a role in the state is to deny reality. While not as overt as in the Thurmond years, a look at voting results demonstrate the extreme racial polarization in the state. In 2008, Obama won 96% of the black vote while McCain took 73% of the white vote. Four years previous, Bush took 78% of the white vote. In the GOP primary, 95% of those casting ballots are white while whites make up only 67% of the state’s population. While some in the liberal press have portrayed legitimate differences between the parties as being racially motivated, the differences go deeper. Many see programs that only benefit minorities- education and job training. The rightward shift of older voters see Democratic programs that are of no benefit to them directly. Interviews with the rank and file black citizens reveals that they perceive the GOP in South Carolina as racist. The shadow of Thurmond stretches long over politics there. This state will not be critical to Obama’s chances in 2012 and he knows it. That might explain his war on the state such as unleashing the NRLB against the Boeing plant in South Carolina. It also explains why Holder’s DOJ is taking the state to task over voter ID laws. Obama realizes he can count on 95% of the black vote. Our first “post-racial” President is not above racial politics. These efforts are nothing more than an effort to “punish” the white voters of South Carolina.

And Obama and Holder have done a great job in further polarizing racial politics in the state. They have portrayed the voter ID law as an attempt to disenfranchise blacks in the state who, they assume, lack the ability to get a state-issued ID. That is, the first black President and his black Attorney General believe that blacks are just plain stupid and lack the ability to get an ID. They have also portrayed the GOP as being particularly hard on Obama only because of his skin color. To them, it has nothing to do with his policies.

However, Democrats engage in this racial politics at their own peril as the 2010 census bears out. South Carolina’s population increased to the point where they gain a House seat in 2013. Additionally, most of the population gain occurred not in Democratic areas, but more white and conservative areas.

In the 1st District, Tim Scott, a Republican who happens to be black, seeks to defend the seat he won in 2010. Based along the state’s southern coast, it includes large portions of Charleston and Beaufort counties, including Hilton Head. It remains favorable to Republicans. If anything, Joe Wilson’s 2nd District became more Republican as it takes in heavy GOP territory in Aiken and Lexington counties. Another Republican, Jeff Duncan, represents the 3rd located in the northwest corner of the state along the Georgia border and is heavily GOP leaning. In 2010, freshman Republican Trey Gowdy won the 4th District with 64% of the vote. Located along the border with North Carolina, it mirrors the neighboring 3rd District. It is believed Jim Tobias will challenge Gowdy.

Yet another Republican freshman, Mick Mulvaney, unfortunately may have taken the brunt of any damage to the GOP in South Carolina in what can best be described as a trade off for the creation of the new district favorable to the GOP to the east. Specifically, portions of the more Democratic Fairfield and Lee counties were added to the 5th. This may make Mulvaney vulnerable to a primary challenge or a strong, centrist Democratic opponent.

The minority dominated 6th District is a gift to incumbent Jim Clyburn, the lone Democrat in the House delegation. It is possible a strong black Republican candidate would make this race more interesting, but Clyburn is a mainstay in this district and should win.

The new 7th District is centered around Myrtle Beach and encompasses most of the state’s northern coastal region. At least ten Republicans have stepped forward in what may be one of the most crowded fields in the country. Best known among them are Andre Bauer (ex-Lt. Governor, ex-state senator and one time challenger to Haley). Horry County politicians should dominate here as both Chad Prosser and Tom Rice have also announced their intentions to run. For the Democrats, state representative Ted Vick looks like the strongest Democratic candidate.

This rendition of the congressional map almost did not come about. Looming over the ultimate decision was DOJ approval of the map under the VRA. Originally, there was a competing plan to create a new district based in Beaufort County to the south that would have allowed state senator Tom Davis to run for the new seat. Instead, Davis eventually backed the Horry County-centered district fearing that courts would intervene and draw new lines and jeopardize other Republican gains this year. In short, Davis took one for the team and eventually backed down in his demands. And even though the GOP field is crowded, there is the belief that state representative Alan Clemmons, considered the best candidate in this new district, will eventually enter the race.

With approval ratings in the low 40s and no conceivable upside, the GOP candidate will win the state’s nine electoral votes. Put another way, the Obama Administration has so pissed off the people of South Carolina that it is likely his approval ratings will DROP rather than rise as November nears. I expect the GOP nominee to improve upon McCain’s 54% showing from 2008. Likewise, the GOP will gain a seat in the House out of South Carolina this year. There are too many qualified, strong Republicans in the new district, indicative of its GOP leaning status. The only thing would be for Vick to present himself as a DINO and Republicans killing themselves in a fight for the nomination. Being South Carolina, anything could happen.

Running totals thus far:
Obama with 261 electoral votes to 232 for the GOP;
Net gain of 3 Governors;
Net gain of 4 Senate seats;
Net loss of 4 House seats.

Next: Georgia