Gloria Bromell Tinubu was not supposed to win the Democratic primary for South Carolinas new 7th Congressional District.
And she may not yet, after another of the court rulings that has defined the Great Primary Debacle of 2012.
But Tinubu pronounced Ti-new-boo suddenly is getting a lot of attention, having finished first in or won, depending on your legal perspective the districts June 12 primary.
Tinubu only returned to her home state of South Carolina late last year, meaning she should have lacked the name recognition and organization needed to win. She has not shined at raising money, a major problem for a congressional candidate. And nearly every big name in S.C. Democratic circles including U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, the minority whip of the U.S. House endorsed her top competitor.
Ive only met her twice, Clyburn, the states most prominent Democrat, said Thursday. I dont know much about her.
Despite the odds, Tinubu, an unknown to Democratic leaders and many voters, pulled off an unexpected feat, topping a Democratic competitor that out-fundraised her and, seemingly, securing the Democratic nomination for the newly drawn 7th District, made up of the Grand Strand and many Pee Dee counties.
Now, however, a Friday ruling in a lawsuit says there must be a runoff between Tinubu and Preston Brittain, the second-highest Democratic vote-getter and the favorite of many Democratic powers.
Tinubu starts in the lead, having taken 52 percent of the June 12 vote to Brittains 39 percent, or 49 percent to 36 percent if votes for a candidate who dropped out are counted, as a judge ordered Friday. Tinubus legal team is mulling an appeal of that ruling, a move that could head off Tuesdays runoff.
How did Tinubu come out on top earlier this month?
Tinubu, an economist and a teaching assistant at Coastal Carolina University who is more professorial than political, shies away from questions about her Democratic and Republican competitors, giving only broad explanations for her primary performance. Instead, the Georgetown County native and former Georgia House of Representatives member stresses her lifelong work as a community activist, advocating for those who feel they have no voice in the political process.
Weve moved away from a commitment to providing equal access and equal opportunity to all people, said Tinubu who, while a member of the Atlanta City Council in the 1990s, worked to clean up a corridor in her district known for drugs and prostitution. Ultimately, three hotels known for illegal activity were razed and a code enforcement initiative was started.
Thats the story of my life. Im in communities that are neglected, said the 59-year-old mother of four adult children and grandmother of two. Youve got to be the change you want to see, like Gandhi said.
That traditional Democratic message, paired with a state Supreme Court decision, a smart ground/media game and luck laid the groundwork for Tinubus June 12 finish.
Tinubu and her top competitor, Myrtle Beach attorney Preston Brittain, got a big boost from the exit of state Rep. Ted Vick, D-Chesterfield, an early favorite in the race and leader in both fundraising and name identification. Vick quit the race after he was charged with drunken driving.
More unexpected help came from a state Supreme Court decision that kicked hundreds of would-be candidates off the primary ballot because they had failed to properly fill out paperwork.
As a result, highly-anticipated, competitive primaries for sheriff in some of the districts small, rural, Democratic-leaning counties were cancelled races that would have attracted more voters to the polls, including moderates. Those moderates likely would have voted for Brittain or Vick, speculates Lachlan McIntosh, Vicks campaign manager.
But, without the draw of those races, the primary electorate shifted to a more left-leaning group that included more African-Americans than originally had been anticipated by the other Democratic campaigns.
The electorate changed, McIntosh said. (Tinubu) would have come in second or third if it had been the kind of electorate we thought there would be and if Ted (Vick) had stayed in the race.
But, McIntosh added, She had the right message. She knew how to speak with Democratic primary voters. She deserves credit for it. It was smart.
The right message
Tinubu knew how to speak to Democratic primary voters.
While she was talking about President Obama, universal health care and jobs on the campaign trail, Brittains message of a new generation of leadership and building I-73 was a better fit for general election voters, said Phil Bailey, a political consultant to S.C. Democrats.
Brittains campaign disagrees, saying the proposed interstate is a relevant to voters as it would benefit the whole region.
Voters in the 7th District understand the potential the I-73 can bring to the Pee Dee, said John Keig, Brittains campaign manager. Three thousand new jobs will be created in its construction, and 22,000 jobs could flow from its completion. We need stronger infrastructure in the 7th District like I-73 so that manufacturers can transport their materials to counties like Marion and Marlboro and bring jobs in the process.
Tinubu knew how to get her message out too.
While she only has been back in South Carolina since December, she hired a campaign team who knew the district, including campaign manager Anne Beser, a district resident and seasoned hand who worked on Linda Ketners 2008 campaign for the 1st District congressional seat.
They knew the district. They knew the voters. They had the ground game, Bailey said.
Tinubu also knew how to deliver, spending her cash much of it her own in the final days of the race on radio and TV spots, a smart move for an unknown.
And it did not hurt Tinubu that the districts black voting-age population is about 30 percent, the second highest among the states seven congressional districts. All factors being equal between two candidates as was the case between Tinubu and Brittain, both little-known to most voters African-Americans voters historically prefer African-American candidates.
Regardless of who wins Tuesdays runoff assuming it is held Tinubu or Brittain is far from a sure bet to win the district, drawn by the GOP-controlled Legislature so that a Republican could win.
To win in November, the Democratic nominee must pull support from moderates and independents.
It is made for a more-conservative, Blue Dog Democrat that can hold on the base but also bring new people to the table, said McIntosh, adding Tinubu will be pegged as too liberal by many general election voters.
She also will have to fend off criticism she is an opportunist who left her post in Georgias House after just a year in office to move to South Carolina to run for Congress.
That will be less of an issue for Tinubu if former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, also in a runoff Tuesday, is the Republican nominee. Bauer also has been called a carpetbagger who moved to the district only to run for Congress.
Tinubu denies the allegation of political opportunism, saying she long has wanted to return home to South Carolina.
When I left home for college many years ago, my intention was to return home and I did, said the Howard University graduate, who received her masters and doctoral degrees from Clemson University.
Perhaps the biggest challenge will be fundraising, an area where Tinubu has not shined. A congressional race will require more than $1 million.
Between October and the end of May, Tinubu raised nearly $50,000, most of it from donors in Georgia. She also loaned her campaign $145,000. (More recent financial figures were not available.)
By comparison, Brittain raised more than 10 times that amount from October through June 6, more than $500,000, nearly all of it from South Carolina. He loaned his campaign $35,000.
But financial help could come from national Democrats who are watching the race one of only 12 open congressional seats in the country with interest.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign has listed the race as an emerging one and reserved $374,000 for television buys in the district, according to Tinubus campaign.
As for Tinubu, shes prepping to fight up to election day.
There have been a lot of people silenced by the rhetoric of it being a Republican seat, she said. I dont think its a Republican seat.
The on-again, off-again, now on-again Democratic 7th District congressional runoff is not the only runoff being held Tuesday. Other high-profile races include:
State Senate District 35: The retirement of Democrat Phil Leventis has Republicans thinking they can pick up a seat in the state Senate. The GOP runoff features Tony Barwick v. Wade Kolb. Barwick led the June 12 primary, 49-46. Tuesdays winner faces Democrat Thomas McElveen in November.
S.C. House District 41: The retirement of 20-something House bad boy Boyd Brown has left an opening in a safe, redrawn Democratic seat that now extends into Northeast Richland. The Democratic runoff candidates are Mary Gail Douglas and Annie McDaniel. McDaniel led the June 12 primary, 37-28. The winner will face Republican William Gray in November.
7th District, GOP runoff: Republicans also have a runoff in the new 7th District congressional district. It pits former S.C. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer against Horry County Commission chairman Tom Rice. Bauer led the June 12 primary, 32-27.
For results Tuesday night: Go to thestate.com
The front-runner for the Democratic nomination in Tuesdays 7th District congressional runoff
Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.