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A safe bet: Republicans keep control of S.C. House
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report

House Seats
Safe Republican
Likely Republican
Leaning Republican
Leaning Democratic
Likely Democratic
Safe Democratic
-- Statehouse Report analysis

OCT. 27, 2002 -- - It's a safe bet Republicans will maintain control of the South Carolina House of Representatives following the Nov. 5 elections. Even before Election Day, Republicans are uncontested in 50 of the 124 races for the House. They only need only 13 of the contested 36 seats to keep control.

But according to an exclusive Statehouse Report analysis, Democrats can take a little heart in a projection they'll probably cut the whopping 72-52 majority Republicans now enjoy. So far, Democrats have 38 seats guaranteed next year because there are no GOP challengers in 38 races.

That leaves 36 contested races. Of those, Democrats and Republicans are likely or probable winners in 15 races each. Six seats are "toss-up" races because they're too close to call with just over a week left before the election. Consider three possibilities for those toss-up races:

  • Business as usual. If Republicans take all of the toss-up races, Democrats should open the session with 53 seats - - one more than they currently have.

  • Business changes. If the parties split the toss-up races, Democrats should hold 56 seats to 68 by Republicans. With this larger minority, Democrats might periodically thwart major legislation by cobbling a coalition of disaffected Republicans.

  • Working majority. But if Democrats capture all of the toss-up races, they should start the year with 59 seats - - just four short of a majority. If Democrats come that close - - and it probably won't happen - - they would be able to make a lot of mischief for the Republican leadership. It wouldn't be hard for House Minority Leader Doug Jennings of Bennettsville to pick off two or three votes at any time - - a re-energized "Bubba Brigade" of Republicans - - to have a working majority on many issues.

More than likely, Democrats will pick up four seats and open the session with 56 members. The six toss-up races to watch are:

  • House District 6: Former Democratic Rep. Chuck Allen of Anderson faces freshman Republican incumbent Brian White. Two years ago during the Bush landslide, White barely beat Allen. This year, the Bush coattails won't be there and Allen might reclaim the seat.

  • House District 11: Rep. Harry Stille (R-Due West) only recently switched to the Republican Party. He faces Democrat Johnnie Waller, popular mayor of Calhoun Falls. The Upstate district is more Republican than in the past, but the party switch could cost Stille at the polls.

  • House District 15: Retiring Clinton Democrat Donny Wilder's seat has become more Republican-oriented since redistricting. Two newcomers, Democrat Diane Byrd Anderson and Republican Jeff Duncan, are battling for this open seat.

  • House District 46: Republican Rep. Gary Simrill of Rock Hill faces a stiff challenge from Rock Hill lawyer Dan Ballou. Over the summer, Simrill got caught up in controversy involving the Division of Motor Vehicles. While the district should go to a Republican, Ballou's hard-charging campaign may capitalize on Simrill's mistakes.

  • House District 118: This newly-created district in Beaufort County used to be a Democratic seat allocated to Charleston County. Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Steve Cheney, a Democrat, faces Bluffton developer Bill Herbkersman. If Cheney's apparent popularity in Republican strongholds like Sun City carries over at the ballot box, he may be able to squeak by with a victory.

  • House District 119: Vocal Republican Rep. John Graham III of Charleston faces his toughest challenge yet from Democratic Realtor Charlie Smith, who has assembled an incredible field organization. The race likely will go down to the wire even if Altman does what seems impossible - - keeping his flamboyant mouth shut about Smith being gay.

Pee Dee voters also might want to watch the "leaning Democratic" District 60 race between GOP Rep. Marty Coates and Democrat LaRue Kirby. Lowcountry voters should watch for former Democratic Rep. George Bailey of St. George to beat freshman Republican David Owens in Dorchester County.

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