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2002-2004, South Carolina Statehouse Report. Published weekly during the S.C. legislative session. South Carolina Statehouse Report is a media project of The Brack Group, Charleston, S.C.

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Two-party 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 future?

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 to wane.

"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 decide elections.

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 Graham.

"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 button.

-- 30 --

11/3: Use your vote wisely: a lesson
10/27: SC GOP to keep control of House
10/20: Black voters may be secret weapon
10/13: Talk is cheap; action takes courage
10/6: Creating sunshine to dampen negative ads
9/29: SC Set to be world leader in news research
9/22: SC Senate shift could be around corner
9/15: Gov's race about barbs, ads, not people
9/8: Shorfall may cause look at prison alternatives
9/2: Revitalize your patriotism by participating
8/25: S.C.'s fiscal situation could be a lot worse
8/18: State wetlands policy needed
8/11: The bully vs. the whiner
8/4: Noah's Ark approach to tax reform
7/28: Two-party system could be political outcome
7/21: State budget woes loom for 2 more years
7/14: Agencies can do better job on Internet
7/5: Thank a guardsman today for service
6/28: Hodges-Sanford race will be wild ride
6/21: Sanford-Peeler race's impact on GOP
6/14: Ethics reform needed now

More done than you'd think(1.23)
More education $ also means cuts (1.22)
PSC reform to come, but when?(1.21)



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