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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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The bully vs. the whiner
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report

AUG. 11, 2002 - - This year's race for governor appears to be the summer blockbuster battle of the bully versus the whiner.

A lot of Democrats still question Gov. Jim Hodges' barrage of ads about Mark Sanford that started the day after he beat Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler in the GOP runoff. They're worried the strategy of highlighting Sanford's congressional record will backfire. They're biting their nails that people will keep describing the ads as negative, instead of fair game about a candidate's record.

Meanwhile a lot of Republicans remain apprehensive about Sanford. They're concerned about his inexperience at the state level and thin political skin. But many are worried even more that Hodge's pugilistic ads are making sense to voters and becoming the political equivalent of the Chinese water torture - - a drip, drip, drip of votes away from the GOP nominee.

Sanford has a Kennedy-like mystique. One wag says he's got a Teflon finish - - anything said about him doesn't seem to stick in the media. Young and old gravitate to his carefully-crafted image as the principled young Mr. Clean.

But face it. Sanford's got an irritating whine. Whether it's about Peeler's ads, Hodge's ads or anyone who criticizes his record, a tinny tone comes from Sanford's camp. You can hear it when he talks about the governor's money advantage:

"What he has to do is take me out personally to win the race based on the demographic, regional advantages that you have as a coastal candidate," Sanford said. "They are somewhat desperate measures." When asked whether Hodges was scared of him, Sanford replied, "Yeah."

With that good-guy aura, who wouldn't be a little scared? On paper, Hodges should have a lock on re-election. He's the incumbent. He's got wads of money. And he's delivered on much of what he said he'd do.

But that's on paper. The race now is close because of a combination of Sanford's charisma (and Hodges' lack of it), Sanford's grip on the Upstate vote and a lingering unease on the coast with the way the Hurricane Floyd evacuation was handled by the Hodges administration.

So you've got to wonder why Hodges is running all of those ads about Sanford's record. It's because they're working. Word on the street is polling shows Sanford's negative ratings started rising after Hodges started running ads. Over the last two months, the onslaught of information about Sanford's record reportedly has caused Sanford's negative perceptions by voters to triple.

And that's why Sanford's scared too. He's complaining about Hodges' ads because he can't return fire on television yet to stop the softening of his support and momentum.

Republicans feel the governor's race is Sanford's to lose. But from a strategic standpoint, Hodges currently still has the upper hand. With his repetitive, constant television campaign, Hodges has done something almost unimaginable in political campaigns - - he's gotten voters to talk about the governor's race two or three months before they usually focus on it.

In and of itself, that may be the biggest result of this year's election so far. If Hodges is unable to crack Sanford's image, the governor will lose. But if voters are influenced by the ads and analyze the Sanford record, Hodges may squeak by with a victory.

Prediction: Sanford will continue to whine that Hodges' ads are personal. Hodges will keep running the ads so voters will look beyond the Teflon.

-- 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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