The Buzz: SC Democrats fighting (publicly) among themselves

abeam@October 7, 2012 

Last week, Democratic House candidate Beth Bernstein was excited to announce she had been endorsed by Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. The endorsement, by a Democratic powerhouse, was sure to boost Bernstein’s campaign against Republican Joan Brady in the S.C. House 78 race, one of the most competitive in the state.

But Bernstein’s plans were foiled by an unlikely source – Dick Harpootlian, the bombastic chairman of the state’s Democratic Party.

The State newspaper broke the story Monday that Lott also had endorsed Republican state Sen. John Courson, who is facing a serious challenge from Democrat Robert Rikard in Senate District 20.

Harpootlian, who has spent lots of state party money trying to defeat Courson, was incensed. He attacked Lott, saying the only reason the sheriff endorsed Courson was because the Senate president pro tempore had appointed Lott to a two-year post on the state’s retirement board, which comes with a $12,000-a-year salary.

This put Bernstein in an awkward spot. Should she just announce Lott’s endorsement and pretend nothing happened? Ultimately, Bernstein’s supporters released a statement saying she was “extremely disappointed” with Harpootlian’s comments, adding: “Like Sheriff Lott, I have an independent streak that toes no party lines.”

Harpootlian’s response: “I hope that she got a discount from Sheriff Lott for his endorsement. I mean, $24,000 seems a bit expensive for a House race.”

Infighting usually is reserved for the party in power. This summer, for example, South Carolinians witnessed the Republican speaker of the House ripping the ethics of the state’s Republican governor. And just last week, Gov. Nikki Haley announced she would target lawmakers – including Republicans – who opposed her legislative agenda this year, saying: “It’s time for these people to go.”

But South Carolina’s Democrats are not used to the infighting, and it showed. Several prominent Democrats – including state Sens. Darrell Jackson and Joel Lourie – pushed back publicly against Harpootlian Thursday, calling a news conference at the State House.

“I know (Harpootlian) mentioned maybe spending some time in North Carolina in the next couple of weeks,” Jackson said, referring to the S.C. party’s push to help President Barack Obama win North Carolina. “Perhaps (Harpootlian) will find somebody there who will respect him. I can tell you he is losing a lot of respect here in South Carolina.”

For Democrats, the question is: What did you expect?

Two years ago, S.C. Democrats just had lost all nine statewide elected offices and were reduced to an unprecedented minority in the state House of Representatives. They elected Harpootlian as state chairman because he was a troublemaker and would not bow to Republican bullying. And occasionally, he makes trouble for Democrats, too.

“I got elected by Democrats to be the chairman of the Democratic Party, not to make sure political people running for office cozy up to somebody that may appoint them to a committee or a commission,” he said. “They are angry at me. They should be angry at Lott.

“My advice to (Democratic critics) is keep their mouth shut. They ought to support me,” Harpootlian added. “We are not going to win an election with Democrats endorsing Republicans.”

Voters still love Andre Bauer

Question: What is the title of lieutenant governor worth in political contributions?

Answer: $1.2 million.

That’s how much Andre Bauer spent in the Republican Primary in South Carolina’s new 7th Congressional District. And, for all that money, Bauer lost the GOP runoff to Tom Rice, now facing Democrat Gloria Bromell Tinubu in the Nov. 6 election.

But a new Winthrop Poll, released last week, revealed a silver lining for Bauer: 10.4 percent of those surveyed in the 7th District think Bauer still is the state’s lieutenant governor.

Only 5.3 percent told pollsters the correct answer – Glenn McConnell – while 76.9 percent did not know. (We applaud their honesty.)

“They must have had my mom answering the phone a whole bunch during that poll,” Bauer joked to Buzz last week. “Who knows? A large percent of people still think Obama is doing a good job.”

Bauer should not feel too bad. Nearly a third of the likely voters polled did not know South Carolina had a new congressional district – even though those voters live in the new district.

Haley’s ensemble with a punch

The Buzz is no fashion maven – we’re still wearing white after Labor Day – but we think Gov. Nikki Haley might be on to something.

The governor told her 38,000 Twitter followers and 42,000 fans on Facebook that she put on a special ensemble to watch the first presidential debate on Wednesday.

“SO Excited! It is debate night! I have my comfy clothes and my boxing gloves on. ... ‘Let’s get ready to rumble!!!!!!!!!!!!’ Go Mitt!” the guv posted before sharing other thoughts during and after the debate, including her assessment – shared by most – that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won.

Buzz thinks adding boxing gloves to any outfit says, “Let’s argue over job creation and health care” with a sense of flair. Try them at a dinner party or your next tailgate. (But the gloves do make it hard to hold a drink.)

But Buzz doesn’t approve of violence. So Buzz will just declare that any post with 14 exclamation points wins by a TKO.

The guv: She’s getting a list

The governor is coming after you. Well, maybe not you, but that other guy. Or is that fella on the other side?

Haley said last week that voters should expect to see her stumping for politicians opposing state lawmakers she thinks are impeding progress in Palmettoland.

“We’re working on a list,” the first-term Republican governor said. But Haley isn’t saying who is on it yet.

Big hints could come from her legislative report cards, though no release date has been announced. Haley did offer some criteria for her targets.

“I’m going to look at why we lost DOA (the proposed Department of Administration) by one vote. I’m going to look at why we haven’t been fiscally more responsible with the budget because of people who want to keep spending,” she said. “And I’m going to look at the fact that we’ve got a lot of people who’ve been here way too long that think their way is the only way. And I’m going to do something about it.”

(Cue the “da-da-daaaa” music.)

No word yet if the guv will deploy her soon-to-be-freed campaign manager Tim Pearson, whose last day as chief of staff is Friday.

Pearson, who is leaving to run Haley’s political operations, was coy about wading into this fall’s legislative races – such as trying to replace a Haley nemesis, state Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, with Haley pal Katrina Shealy, a petition candidate. Pearson simply said he would do whatever Haley asked.

(Tim, sounds like she’s asking. She’s working on a list. Buzz expects to see you soon on the campaign trail.)

Quotes of the week

"I appreciate y’all’s eagerness, and I hope that means you all just love that I’m governor."

– Gov. Nikki Haley to reporters after she was asked last week if she was ready to announce her 2014 re-election bid. Haley said she wasn’t.

“I’m sorry, this is Col. Sanders trying to preach to the chickens.”

– State Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian responding to a pair of Democratic senators who endorsed Republican state Sen. John Courson last week over his Democratic challenger and then suggested the party needed a new chairman.

Staff writer Andrew Shain contributed.

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