South Carolina: Not For the Faint of Heart
South Carolina politics is certainly not for the faint of heart, especially in the past decade. There was the Bush ambush of McCain in 2000 in the South Carolina primary campaign (he fathered a black child, his wife was a drug addict, questions about his sanity due to POW status in North Vietnam, his ties to the S&L crisis) that caused McCain to withdraw from the race in 2000. In 2008, an innocent comparison of Obama’s primary victory to one by Jesse Jackson brought ridiculous cries of racism against Bill Clinton. And this year has been no different. If one wishes to wade into South Carolina politics, one does so at their own risk where anything and everything goes.
And it was the case this year in the two statewide races- Senator and Governor. In the Governor’s race, Nikki Haley, the Republican nominee, will face Vincent Sheehan. She currently leads by 13 points to succeed term-limited Republican Governor and Appalachian Trail hiker, Mark Sanford. Of course, during the primary season there was the racist comment about her Sikh heritage plus the allegations of her extramarital affairs added to the intrigue. In fact, I have heard some Democrats denigrate her candidacy as false proof of a more diverse GOP, as if they have a monopoly on ethnic and sexual diversity in political parties. In the end, it does not matter much because Nikki Haley will be the next Republican Governor of South Carolina.
And just when you think it couldn’t get any more intriguing, there was the Democratic primary for Senate to choose an opponent for incumbent Republican, Jim DeMint. Hailing from the very conservative 4th District, DeMint is certainly one of the Senate’s most conservative members. Although his approval ratings in the state are not overwhelming for an incumbent, he currently enjoys a 36 point lead on his opponent. But the fun is the Democratic candidacy of Alvin Greene- a man involuntarily, but honorably discharged from the military in 2009 and unemployed since. There are the federal obscenity charges against him for downloading pornography at the computer lab of a South Carolina university. In response to those charges, he is awarded a public defender due to his alleged indigent status. But, he comes up with a personal check for $10,400 to have his name placed on the ballot in the primary. Then to top that off, in very low Democratic turn out, the sucker wins! So a legally indigent, unemployed black man facing federal obscenity charges is Jim DeMint’s opponent.
To illustrate how low the current civil rights debate has descended, a couple of theories have been put forth by South Carolina’s black political leadership for Greene’s win despite the fact that he did not even campaign. The first is the most interesting. Some have suggested that Greene’s name, which was placed first on the ballot, is common among blacks in South Carolina. By putting the name on top, it “confused” black voters into voting for him. Huh? Let me understand this: a man’s surname, because it happens to coincide with a common surname among blacks, confused people into voting for….a black man. And these accusations come from black leaders. If correct, are they insinuating that black voters are merely following the herd over a cliff like buffalo? And they have the audacity to question a simple innocent statement by Bill Clinton?
Having shown their stupidity here, the next obvious conclusion is that Greene is a Republican plant placed there to draw votes from more qualified candidates. In other words, the Republican Party played the race card. Even if this was true, then they are merely confirming their stupidity and the genius of Republican dirty tricks. Except for one thing- the vote wasn’t even close…no run off or anything like that. Greene captured 70% of the vote- NOT CAMPAIGNING! That’s check on the stupid meter. And check mate- De Mint rolls to victory.
The 1st District is being vacated by Republican Henry Brown. Although traditionally a Democratic district, Tim Scott should win over Ben Frasier. Unfortunately for Frasier, most of the blacks in this district have been shifted into the 6th District. And by the way, Frasier, a weak candidate, has also been labeled a Republican plant. The 2nd District features Republican incumbent Joe Wilson in a rematch of 2008’s close race against Robert Miller. This District has been in Republican hands since 1965. Wilson is famous for his “YOU LIE!” outburst during an Obama address to Congress, for which he received a Congressional rebuke (although a more appropriate rebuke should have come against Obama for his treatment of the Supreme Court). These two words did two things: they made Wilson a celebrity and it filled his campaign coffers. He should win easily and this will be not as close as 2008.
In the 3rd District, incumbent Republican Gresham Barrett is retiring. Encompassing the rural and socially conservative western part of the state, Republican Jeff Duncan should prevail. Likewise, in the 4th District, incumbent Republican Bob Inglis went down to defeat in his party’s primary to Trey Gowdy in a runoff that was not particularly close. It was one of the first races where the TEA Party had an influence. Inglis made critical errors which led to his primary defeat, but those errors did not prevent him from lashing out at the TEA Party. First, he was one of seven Republicans to cross party lines and vote to criticize fellow South Carolinian Joe Wilson. Second, he voted for the Obama stimulus which originally forced the TEA Party to place a target on his back. Third, he voted against the Iraqi surge leaving himself open to criticism in the foreign affairs area. Thus in the wealthiest and one of the most conservative districts, Inglis appeared too moderate. Freed of the shackles of another campaign, he highlighted his shortcomings after the primary campaign by singling out the TEA Party as dangerous, giving fodder to Democratic nay-sayers. Not only did Inglis lose, but he managed to get a lot of egg on his face in the process.
In the 5th District, Democrat John Spratt faces off against Jim Mulvaney. To his disadvantage, he voted with Obama-Pelosi on the stimulus, Obamacare, and cap-and-trade. The stimulus vote in particular will hurt Spratt since the unemployment rate in this district exceeds the state average. The new Democratic strategy of tying Congressional elections to local issues may be too little too late. Mulvaney has been relentless in his characterization of Spratt being out of touch with the sentiments of his constituents. Given the anti-incumbent sentiments prevalent this year and Spratt’s trifecta of voting in step with Obama’s liberal agenda, plus the economy of the district, it should translate into two things. First, this is one of those districts considered Democratic and ripe for the taking as a referendum on the Obama agenda. Secondly, Mulvaney, who leads by 2 points in the polls, should make history. No Republican has won this district since Reconstruction. If that isn’t a referendum on Obama’s policies, I don’t know what is.
Finally, in the 6th District, current Majority Whip soon to be Minority Whip, James Clyburn should win easy re-election having held the seat since 1993. It was Clyburn who played the race card in 2008 with the criticism of Clinton’s statement. It was Clyburn who leveled the charges of Republican plants in the Frasier and Greene cases. In a black majority district- largely made possible by the courts in a case of judicial gerrymandering- the liberal Clyburn should have no troubles. Can you say “buffalo jumping over the cliff?”
In a state largely conservative outside the 6th District, race still plays a very large role in South Carolina politics. Whether it is the whispered campaign of Karl Rove and company or the racially charged bogey man Clyburn falsely sees behind everything that offends his racially-sensitive ears constantly attuned to “code words” and the like, South Carolina politics- even when outcomes are foregone conclusions- remains one of the most interesting and entertaining states, politically speaking, in the nation. If not interesting, then certainly brutal!