S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Dec. 12, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.1212.dems.htm

COMMENTARY
Dems looking for gubernatorial candidate to challenge Sanford
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

DEC. 12, 2004 - - For a guy who is leading a party in the South Carolina political doghouse, State Democratic Party Chair Joe Erwin is dripping with optimism.

He seems undaunted by his next big challenge, which is to pit a strong candidate against popular Gov. Mark Sanford. The incumbent, whose favorability ratings are off the charts across the state, appears to be perfectly positioned to walk to a second term in 2006.

But Erwin, who notes Democrats held their own in state House and Senate races this year, reminds people that former Gov. David Beasley's reelection chances looked good after two years in office. But in his third year, things started to self-destruct, which led to a 1998 victory by Democrat Jim Hodges.

"You're hearing more and more across the state - - and not just from Democrats - - from people who are saying what has this guy [Sanford] done? What has been accomplished? And the answer is nothing - - or next to nothing - - but a lot of talk."

With a GOP-controlled House and Senate, Erwin says many are amazed by Sanford's lack of legislative accomplishments. To date, the governor has had no major legislative victories and several well-publicized spats with lawmakers. Many, however, say the relationship is maturing and predict Sanford to have a more coordinated and effective effort with his Republican colleagues in the coming legislative session.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Shopping til dropping

FEEDBACK: Missed minibottles

SCORECARD: Who's up and down

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"That should have been the perfect scenario to accomplish great things but instead after two years, it has been a scenario that has accomplished nothing," Erwin said. He adds that if people across the state separate their personal view of Sanford (a "nice guy") from his record as a leader, Democrats could have a big opening in two years.

"While the governor is extremely popular, I think he has alienated people in his own party," said Furman political science professor John Simpkins. "There are a few voices on the Democratic side who could offer some challenge, including for disaffected Republicans."

Leading Democrats met in the last week to discuss strategic problems and consider possible candidates to challenge Sanford. With news that state Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum has decided to run in 2006 for the job she holds, many party leaders and others across the state are discussing possible Democratic candidates. Among the names that crop up are:

  • Jim Clyburn. Simpkins said a candidacy by the 6th district congressman would be very interesting because of his ability to solidify the black vote. Others, however, say Clyburn's not interested yet and wants to keep his powerful leadership position in Washington.

  • Tom Moore. The Aiken-area state senator makes the top of many people's lists and he reportedly is exploring gubernatorial options.

  • Brad Hutto. The Orangeburg state senator, who isn't well known around the state, has a lot of respect and is one of the party's rising stars.

  • Doug Jennings. The Bennettsville House member, who served as a feisty leader of the House Democrats a couple of years back, reportedly is open to considering a race for governor if conditions are right.

  • James Smith. The young Columbia House member is the most recent House Democratic leader, but his service in the National Guard may preempt a gubernatorial bid at this point. Word is his unit may be called to Iraq.

  • Joe Erwin. The chairman's name also has come up in conversations as a possible candidate. Erwin, who admits he's intrigued by the state's top job and won't completely rule it out, says he has no plan in place to run now.

At this point, only Clyburn would be considered a household name. But political observers know two years in politics is a long time. Who, for example, would have considered Jim Hodges to be a household name two years prior to the 1998 election?

Sanford has the definite and clear edge for 2006, but with coordination and organization, Democrats could make the race more than a cakewalk


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
12/12: An ill effect of holiday shopping

The latest from cartoonist Bill McLemore:

FEEDBACK
12/12: You missed the minibottle

To the editor:

Just a couple of points regarding what the General Assembly did/did not do last year. (Commentary, 11/28). Big one for the largest industry in the state that you left out - Minibottle on the ballot! We were only 8-10 years behind on that one. Also - sometimes not passing more laws can be a good thing. "Less government" is not always bad.

-- Duane Parrish, Charleston, S.C.


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SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Leventis. Hats off to Sen. Phil Leventis, the last declared winner of a seat in the General Assembly following a 5-0 vote by the state Election Commission that declared him the victor.

Tenenbaum. With all of the improvements made at South Carolina schools over the last few years, it's a good idea for Inez Tenenbaum to remain state superintendent instead of running for governor.

Graham. Congratulations to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham for bucking party politics and calling for the possibility of higher payroll taxes to save Social Security.

Thumbs down

Wilson, Anderson delegation. The Anderson legislative delegation really needs to rethink putting Ron Wilson, the former head of the Sons of Confederate Veterans with a murky civil rights past, on the state Board of Education.


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