system could be outcome
of this year's elections in S.C.
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report
JULY 28, 2002 - - This year's elections will answer a question
that's been nagging political observers for four years: Were South
Carolina's 1998 statewide results a fluke or the window into the
If Mark Sanford and Republicans regain the governorship and some
statewide constitutional offices, this year's elections will illustrate
how Democratic victories in 1998 were a deviation from a Republican
leadership cycle that started in 1986.
But if Gov. Jim Hodges and Democrats keep the governor's office
and some statewide offices, it will provide more evidence that South
Carolina is a true two-party state.
"This year will determine the true strength of the parties
in the state because the playing field is pretty even," said
Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen. "Both
parties are well-armed and have good candidates."
Prior to 1998, Democrats had not won the governor's office since
Gov. Dick Riley's re-election in 1982. From that time 20 years ago,
Republicans waxed in strength until they picked up enough legislative
seats to take control of the Statehouse. Meanwhile, Democrats seemed
"In 1998, the perception was that the Democratic Party was
dead and in the ditch," Thigpen said.
Then came 1998 with Hodges and his education bandwagon. Democrats
won races for governor, state superintendent, state treasurer and
comptroller general, which led to a Democratic majority on the state
Budget and Control Board. Meanwhile, Republicans held onto the offices
of lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, agriculture
commissioner and adjutant general.
For years in South Carolina, the rule of thumb when predicting
votes has been Republicans and Democrats each start with 30 percent
to 35 percent of the vote. In the middle are independents who really
This year, as in the recent past, candidates from both parties
will have to cater messages to independents to win.
For Democrats, that means continuing to push education and the
Hodges record. Statewide Democrats and those running for S.C. House
seats also will use their personal networks to curry favor with
voters, said University of South Carolina political scientist Blease
"Democrats can't just espouse the party line," he said.
"They've got to do retail politicking too."
Republicans, meanwhile, won't be able to run again on a message
focused on cutting government. Not only is there little left to
cut, but voters have a new respect and value for government following
the Sept. 11 attacks. They don't want lots of government, but they
want efficient and effective programs. To win, Republicans also
may have to co-opt what is seen as a more Democratic issue - - education
- - and offer solid proposals for change.
What makes the 2002 elections even more interesting is Democrats,
for the first time in a long time, will have enough money to compete.
Recent news reports highlighted how statewide Republicans have raised
$12.7 million so far, compared to Democrats' $11.4 million. But
because GOP candidates had tough primaries, they don't have much
money left. As of the first of the month, Democrats had more than
$6 million in the bank, while Republican statewide candidates had
less than $1 million.
By November, Republicans should have enough money to communicate
their messages statewide, but they will be matched this year by
Democrats. It's another signal the state is moving to a healthy,
true two-party system.
Stay tuned. We'll know soon enough. But if you get frustrated with
all of the ads you're going to see, remember- - the TV has an off
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