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February 8, 2016

Posts in "South Carolina"

January 31, 2016

Handicapping the GOP Race Past Iowa

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - JANUARY 14:  Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) participate in the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center on January 14, 2016 in North Charleston, South Carolina. The sixth Republican debate is held in two parts, one main debate for the top seven candidates, and another for three other candidates lower in the current polls.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

While Trump, center, and Cruz, right, have established themselves as front-runners, Rubio has broken away from other establishment candidates. (Scott Olson/Getty Images File Photo)

Have we entered a new period in American politics, when establishment candidates on the GOP side don’t win their party’s nomination? That is the question I posed in a June 4, 2015 column. It is still a relevant question.

While I answered that it is a mistake to assume that the establishment candidate would inevitably win the GOP nomination, I doubted that combative candidates such as Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, could pass the smell test for most Republicans.

Full story

August 19, 2014

Not Your Typical Southern Democrat in South Carolina

Brad Hutto

(John Rieger/CQ Roll Call)

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s Democratic opponent, state Sen. Brad Hutto, wants you to know two things: He has a path to victory against the two-term Republican, and it doesn’t require him to run from traditional Democratic positions.

“I’m not a Blue Dog,” Hutto said proudly during a recent interview with me and my colleague Nathan Gonzales. “I’m a Democrat.”

Hutto doesn’t hide his views, which are right in sync with those of Democrats nationally. He figures that the four-way race for the Senate this year — against Graham, Libertarian Victor Kocher and independent Thomas Ravenel, a former Republican state treasurer of South Carolina — gives him a chance to win the contest with far less than half the total votes cast. Full story

October 1, 2013

Republican Senate Hopefuls Vary in Quality, Approach

I recently interviewed four Republican Senate candidates in the space of one week, and if I had to draw a single assessment from those meetings it would be that there is plenty of diversity in the GOP’s class of Senate hopefuls.The four differed in stature, style and background, and they dealt with the party’s internal debate of style and strategies in a variety of ways.

Republicans must hold South Carolina and win at least one — maybe more — of the other three races to have any chance of taking back the Senate next year. And that makes these contests in South Carolina, North Carolina, Iowa and Alaska all worth watching.

On one end of the continuum was state Sen. Lee Bright, one of three conservatives who hopes to deny South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham renomination and win the GOP nod himself.

Bright, whose professional career started with selling televisions at Circuit City, has experienced a series of business setbacks. In fact, I’m not entirely clear how he makes a living, though he said something about truck brokerage and credit card processing. He seems affable, but he lacks gravitas. Full story

September 16, 2013

Is South Carolina’s Nikki Haley in Trouble?

Haley is vulnerable in her re-election campaign. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Haley will seek re-election in 2014. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If you listen to South Carolina Democrats, you are pretty certain that Republican Gov. Nikki R. Haley is in deep trouble next year. Not so, says Haley’s top strategist, Jon Lerner, arguing she is very likely to win re-election. Both assessments can’t be correct, can they?

“Despite bringing in 3 big-name out-of-state governors to help her build a crowd, Nikki Haley barely turned out more supporters than protesters for her big re-election announcement in deep-red Greenville County yesterday,” wrote South Carolina Democratic Party Communications Director Kristin Sosanie just after Haley announced her bid for a second term last month.

The Democratic state party’s press release went on to describe Haley’s crowd as “anemic” and to list her “failures,” including “making South Carolina one of the hardest places to earn a living” and “hiding a TB outbreak at a public school.” The release also noted that state “tax information was hacked and stolen” under Haley’s watch.

In a lengthy memo dated a few days before the Democratic press release, GOP consultant Lerner cited a number of reasons Haley is “likely to win the 2014 election comfortably.” Among other things, he noted her stronger financial position than in 2010, a unified Republican Party and her accomplishments and incumbency. Full story

August 5, 2013

Incumbent Primary Challengers: Some Promising, Others Premature

The 2014 primary season has begun with high-profile Democratic Senate primaries in Massachusetts and New Jersey. But they’re the tip of the iceberg in what promises to be a cycle of competitive, and possibly nasty, primaries in both parties.

Republicans face plenty of intraparty fights, including one in Kentucky where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faces a challenge on his right flank. Conservatives aiming to knock off establishment GOP incumbents are most excited, however, about their prospects against Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, whom they see as fundamentally weak with a record they can pick apart.

Simpson, a dentist who served as speaker of the Idaho House before winning election to Congress in 1998, hasn’t had a serious primary or general-election challenge since his first race, when he defeated former Democratic Rep. Richard Stallings in an open-seat contest.

The Club for Growth has already endorsed attorney Bryan Smith in the primary. “Simpson has been in Congress forever, he’s an appropriator and prolific earmarker, and he voted for the [Troubled Asset Relief Program] bailout and for the 527 reform act,” said Andy Roth, the group’s vice president of government affairs.

Smith calls himself a “real conservative.” His website says he won’t support “ANY tax increase as a member of Congress and would not have supported the debt limit deal passed by Congress this year.” He also criticizes Simpson for opposing a libertarian amendment to end certain National Security Agency surveillance programs.

By most broad measures, Simpson is a conservative Republican. He has a lifetime AFL-CIO rating of 15 and lifetime rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of 92. He received an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association in 2012 and a 100 percent rating from National Right to Life that same year.

But National Journal rates him as only the 201st most conservative member of the House (fellow Idaho Republican Raúl R. Labrador rates as the 189th), making him comparable to Ohio’s Steve Stivers and Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger. In Idaho, that may not be conservative enough for Republican primary voters — especially for those who regard even one “wrong” vote a violation of principle.

After the Idaho race, the prospects for the other high-profile GOP primary challengers seem less certain.


Businessman Matt Bevin is challenging McConnell in the Kentucky GOP primary. But conservatives who are less than enthusiastic about McConnell don’t yet know whether Bevin, who has some personal resources to put into the race if he chooses, will run a strong enough campaign to threaten the minority leader’s renomination.

Even conservative critics of McConnell say he’s not unpopular among Republicans. And the senator had almost $9.6 million in the bank on June 30. In addition, the president and CEO of American Crossroads, Steven Law, is a former McConnell chief of staff.

Seeing how Rand Paul easily vanquished then-Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the GOP Senate primary last cycle, McConnell has worked to protect his right flank. He’s hired Jesse Benton, who ran campaigns for both Paul and his father, Ron Paul, to run his campaign. Rand Paul has already endorsed McConnell.

South Carolina

The initial reaction in some circles to a primary challenge to Sen. Lindsey Graham can only be described as premature.

Nancy Mace, a public relations company owner and one of the first women to graduate from the Citadel, got plenty of attention over the past week both in South Carolina and Washington when she announced her entry into the GOP primary. She becomes the second Republican hoping to deny renomination to Graham, but some insiders believe the field could grow and that a runoff could present Graham with problems.

Graham, who had $6.3 million in cash on hand on June 30, has been preparing for possible primary opponents. His reputation as a conservative who seeks compromise to get things done certainly assures that some Palmetto State Republicans will want to see him retired.

But political insiders who have already met Mace (I have not) have come away less than impressed.

“She is kind of JV,” one conservative told me, adding, “If she gets a good team around her, maybe she can elevate her game. But a debate with Lindsey Graham would be really tough for her.”

Other GOP Seats

There are other primaries already in the works, of course — Liz Cheney’s challenge to Sen. Michael B. Enzi in Wyoming is probably the most obvious — and others could develop, particularly in the House. But it’s equally noteworthy that two pragmatists, Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander and Maine’s Susan Collins, have avoided serious primary challenges.


Democrats don’t have as many interesting primaries yet, but their Hawaii Senate nomination fight already looks like quite a battle. Appointed Sen. Brian Schatz has drawn a primary from Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a former president of the Hawaii Senate. Polls suggest that the race starts off as very competitive, though they differ as to who has the upper hand.

Schatz, who served in the state legislature and as Democratic Party state chairman, was appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to fill Daniel K. Inouye’s vacant seat after the nine-term Democrat died in December. Inouye made it clear that he wanted Abercrombie to appoint Hanabusa to fill the vacancy, and Inouye’s widow has endorsed the congresswoman.

Hanabusa has had a tough few weeks after the Washington Post reported that her campaign may have violated campaign finance laws prohibiting “coordination” between an independent expenditure effort and a candidate’s campaign.

Schatz’s financial advantage — $1.6 million in the bank on June 30 to Hanabusa’s $650,000 — comes primarily from his huge haul in political action committee money. But the congresswoman has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, and she should raise enough money to be competitive.

The only elected senator from Hawaii of European ancestry was Oren Long, who won a 1959 special election after Hawaii became a state. He did not seek re-election in 1962.

Correction 11:15 am |  An earlier version of this column mistakenly said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is up for re-election this cycle. His colleague, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is up for re-election in 2014.

July 11, 2013

Top 5 Races to Watch in the South

This cycle, the South is dominated by competitive Senate races. That doesn’t mean there won’t be critical House races (including Florida’s 18th and 26th districts) or other interesting contests (such as the crowded Republican primary in Georgia).

Here are the top five races to watch in the South next year:

Arkansas Senate. Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat, is one of the most vulnerable senators in the country, and he represents a state where President Barack Obama has never been popular. Republicans are likely to nominate Rep. Tom Cotton, who appears to be a rare breed in that he appeals to both the tea party and the establishment. If Republicans can’t defeat Pryor, they ain’t getting back to the majority anytime soon. Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call Rating: Pure Toss-Up. Full story

June 27, 2013

Gomez-Sanford Comparison on Obamacare Fails the Smell Test

You only need to look at the first paragraph of an “opinion” piece on Roll Call’s website to see that it wasn’t worthy of being posted on our website – or anyone’s. I’m not even going to include a link because I don’t want anyone to read it. (Editor’s Note: Here’s the link.)

“What’s the biggest difference between the victorious 2013 House special-election campaign of Mark Sanford and the losing 2013 Senate special-election campaign of Gabriel Gomez? Simply, a willingness to take on Obamacare,” write conservatives Heather R. Higgins and Kellyanne Conway in “Gomez Failed to Make Obamacare an Issue: Will Republicans Learn or Lose?”

That’s the biggest difference, huh? Only if you don’t know anything about politics and your main goal is to push an agenda.

Obviously, the two electorates are fundamentally different in so many ways that the comparison between Sanford’s victory and Gomez’s defeat is laughable. To begin with, President Barack Obama lost South Carolina’s 1st District 58 percent to 40 percent, but carried Massachusetts 60 percent to 37 percent.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Though Conway fashions herself to be a pollster, the op-ed includes no polling to make the case that Obama’s healthcare plan would have been a winning issue, or even an effective one, for Gomez in the Bay State, where the president is quite popular.

I could go through the piece in more detail, pointing out various problems with it, but, quite frankly, it doesn’t deserve that much attention.

May 8, 2013

Partisanship Ruled in South Carolina Special Election

(Davis Turner/Getty Images)

(Davis Turner/Getty Images)

Mark Sanford’s victory in the special election in South Carolina’s 1st District tell us little new about the 2014 elections. But it does serve as a reminder about one important factor in American politics that shouldn’t be ignored when the midterms roll around: partisanship.

At the end of the day, most Republican voters in the district decided to vote Republican, even though their nominee had more than his share of warts.

Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch might well have won in a more competitive district, but she could not convince Republican voters — conservative Republican voters — that she was a safe choice or that Sanford was unacceptable. Full story

May 6, 2013

South Carolina Special a Photo Finish?

With the special election in South Carolina just one day away, both Republicans and Democrats are unsure of the outcome.

Former Palmetto State Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, began with a narrow advantage over Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, but even Republicans pulling for Sanford believe that he has failed to run the strong race he needed to in order to hold onto the reliably GOP seat. Full story

May 2, 2013

Parties Prepare to Spin Colbert Busch Win

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the party’s super PAC, the House Majority PAC, have spent well over half a million dollars in an effort to win a special election in South Carolina’s 1st District, a reliably Republican seat that is competitive only because Republicans nominated controversial former Gov. Mark Sanford.

But even if Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch wins the special election and gains Democrats another House seat, the party will likely have to spend millions of dollars to have any chance of holding the seat in the 2014 midterm elections. In the meantime, the additional seat will not affect the fate of legislation that the House is likely to deal with during the next year and a half.

Given that, why would Democrats invest that much money in the special election?

“The competitiveness of this race proves that when Republicans nominate fundamentally flawed candidates, Democrats can put even overwhelmingly Republican seats in play,” said Jesse Ferguson, the deputy executive director of the DCCC, who notes that the same thing might happen in other districts in 2014. Full story

April 24, 2013

GOP Throwing Another Race Away, Mark Sanford Style

(Davis Turner/Getty Images)

(Davis Turner/Getty Images)

Republicans are on quite a streak when it comes to throwing away elections.

In 2010, it was Christine O’Donnell of Delaware, Ken Buck of Colorado and Sharron Angle of Nevada. Then, in 2012, it was Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana.

And now? And now it might be Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

Apparently uncomfortable that they might win an election, GOP voters in South Carolina’s 1st District decided to nominate the disgraced former governor in the special election to fill the seat of Republican Tim Scott, who was appointed to the Senate earlier this year.

But Sanford’s ability to win the special didn’t seem all that much at risk until his ex-wife complained that the former governor trespassed at her home, after which Sanford issued an un-persuasive statement explaining his behavior. Full story

April 2, 2013

South Carolina 1st District Poll: It’s All About Context

The campaign of Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the Democratic nominee for the special election in South Carolina’s 1st District, released a poll Monday. As with all polls, context matters, so be careful before jumping to conclusions either way.

Conducted for the campaign by Lake Research Partners, the survey shows Colbert Busch leading in general election ballot tests against both Republicans in the runoff, 47 percent to 44 percent over former Gov. Mark Sanford and 48 percent to 39 percent against Curtis Bostic, a social conservative who served on the Charleston County council.

According to the press release, the poll showed Colbert Busch with “a 2-to-1 favorability rating at 48 percent and 24 percent …”

The release did not include name ID or favorability ratings for either of the Republicans, but it included plenty of campaign propaganda about how great Colbert Busch is and how she will be an “independent voice” for South Carolina.

For Democrats, the poll offers at least some reason for hope. After all, Colbert Busch’s favorable/unfavorable ratings are good, and it’s almost always better to be ahead rather than behind in a ballot test.

But there are also reasons for Democrats — and for Colbert Busch — to worry. Huge reasons. Full story

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