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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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Sanford-Peeler contest may have
long-term impact on GOP

JUNE 21, 2002 -- You can almost hear the conversation that may have taken place seven years ago when Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford were brand spanking new congressmen in Washington:

SANFORD: "Man, ain't this something to be up here?"

GRAHAM: "Yeah, it's the first step."

SANFORD: "Step in what?"

GRAHAM: "It's the first step of how we can take over Republican politics in South Carolina for a generation."

SANFORD: "Huh? What do you mean?"

GRAHAM: "Here's how it will work. You're only up here for six years because of term limits. When you step down in 2000, you'll spend time with your family for awhile. Then you will announce you're running for governor. About the same time, I'll announce I'm running for U.S. Senate because Strom probably won't run."

SANFORD: "Me? Run for governor?"

GRAHAM: "Yeah. All you have to do is come in first or second in the primary - - just like you did when you won your congressional seat. Then in the runoff, I'll endorse you and you'll coast to victory."

SANFORD: "It could make the rank-and-file party members mad - - if you get involved in a primary."

GRAHAM: "Don't worry. It will blow over. What are they going to do - - vote for a Democrat?"

* * * * *

O.K. So the conversation probably never happened. But with the startling developments in the GOP governor's race over the last couple of weeks, it certainly sounds plausible.

Graham has angered Upstate conservative voters with a last-minute endorsement of his friend Sanford. Many of them say they now won't vote for Graham because they didn't like him meddling in the primary. Supporters of Sanford's runoff opponent, Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler, are particularly irked.

Then came news that former Gov. Carroll Campbell, who usually stays on the sidelines, now sides with Sanford.

The conservative GOP base has got to be perplexed. Surely, they're wondering what to do in Tuesday's runoff - - go with Peeler, their ideological choice, or Sanford, who seems to be picking up endorsements like dogs get fleas in the summer.

Party stalwarts are looking for direction. The old guard, which until Campbell's endorsement seemed to be with Peeler, now is pitted against a new brand of John McCain-style maverick. Sanford and Graham supported McCain for president. Campbell and Peeler supported George W. Bush.

One thing is for sure - - the Republican Party is going through an identity crisis that's been growing. Who are the real leaders for the GOP in a time when opportunists seem to abound?

University of South Carolina political scientist Blease Graham (no relation to Lindsey) says an old Jeffersonian maxim holds political parties cleanse themselves about every 20 years. In South Carolina, Republicans now seem to be going through the process, he suggests.

"These guys (Sanford and Graham) are trying to reinvent their version of Ronald Reagan, but I think Graham is being tainted with this (Newt) Gingrich perception of being too controversial," Blease Graham says. "They're attacking the old leadership."

Whatever happens Tuesday, it's clear the Republican Party, which grew into prominence under Campbell, is weaker than it has been. Unless it gets its act together, November's statewide elections could bring bad news.

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

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More education $ also means cuts (1.22)
PSC reform to come, but when?(1.21)



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