COLUMBIA, SC — It’s a great time to be a South Carolina politico.
In 2014, Gov. Nikki Haley, and U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott all will be on the ballot at the same time – an unusual election cycle brought on by the resignation of U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint in December.
With three high-profile Republicans on the hot seat, South Carolina could be the center of the political world in 2014 – just like Tennessee was the center of the political world in 1994.
Twenty years ago, then-U.S. Sen. Al Gore had resigned to become vice president in the Democratic Clinton administration.
In the special election that followed, Fred Thompson – you know, the “Law and Order” guy who later ran for president – defeated Jim Cooper, a six-term Democratic House member. A political newcomer named Bill Frist also defeated three-term Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Jim Sasser, who was on track to become the Senate majority leader. And, just to rub it in, Republicans also took the governor’s race that year with Don Sundquist defeating Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen.
“It was a busy time,” recalled John Geer, chairman of the political science department at Vanderbilt University. “You can imagine the flooded airwaves.”
In South Carolina, Haley will face a tough re-election challenge from Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, who lost to the Republican by 4 percentage points in 2010. Haley and Sheheen are tied in some early polls, and many political forecasters have called the race a toss-up.
Graham of Seneca likely will face an opponent in the Republican primary, a challenge fueled by the Tea Party’s frustration with some of Graham’s votes. And North Charleston’s Scott, whom Haley appointed to fill DeMint’s seat, will be running in his first statewide election.
In doing so, Scott will be trying to break a political curse: No Senate appointee in South Carolina ever has won an election. Since 1918, Scott’s seven predecessors never have served beyond their appointment. Four did not seek election, two were defeated in Senate races and one died in office.
Beyond the unusual number of races, however, Vanderbilt’s Geer sees few comparisons between Tennessee in 1994 and South Carolina in 2014.
All the Tennessee races were hotly contested. But looking at South Carolina – where Republicans hold all nine statewide elected offices and have majorities in both chambers of the Legislature – Geer said he wonders where Democrats will find strong candidates.
“Do the Democrats in the state have enough of a bench to put forward two strong candidates, let alone three?” he asked.
Most pundits consider Sheheen a strong candidate. But S.C. Democrats still need to find two more.
At the state Democratic Party convention earlier this year, new party chairman Jaime Jamie Harrison said he would not concede any races. But so far, few would-be Democratic candidates have surfaced.
True, Democrat Jay Stamper says he is running against Graham. But Stamper has less than $2,000 in his campaign account compared to $6 million for Graham.
Who else could run?
(Now would be the time to make an Alvin Greene joke, but we’re tired of those.)
It’s a small state
How small is South Carolina? So small that the Indian American Association of South Carolina could bring together Gov. Nikki Haley and her Democratic rival state Sen. Vincent Sheheen.
Records at the Secretary of State’s office show the Indian American Association of South Carolina was formed in 2001 and dissolved in 2007.
Sheheen, a Camden attorney, is listed as the association’s registered agent. And records show the association’s officers made several donations to Haley’s campaign.
The Buzz contacted both Haley and Sheheen to get to the bottom of this, hoping for some good stories of Sheheen and Haley running into each other at association meetings before the two became political adversaries.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
A spokesman for Haley said she was not aware of any connection her family – including her parents, who are from India and actively involved in the state’s Indian community – had to the association. And Sheheen told The Buzz that while he was listed as the registered agent, that likely means he just helped with the association’s incorporation. After that, he was not involved in the group’s activities.
Haley is firing back now
So what did you do to unwind before the weekend?
Gov. Nikki Haley fired a few military rifles and handguns during a tour Friday of Columbia arms maker FN Manufacturing.
Haley called shooting targets a stress reliever. Of the targets, she said, “I imagined a lot of different people.”
Who exactly, guv?
“That’s my secret.”
(Since the folks with notepads and video cameras were not allowed on the tour, The Buzz cannot confirm if a photo of certain Camden state senator were plastered on the targets.)
South Carolina’s shooter-in-chief tried out FNX-45 and FNX-9 handguns, a FN SCAR light assault rifle and a M249 machine gun, which Haley said is one of weapons her husband, Michael Haley, is using during his year-long S.C. National Guard deployment in Afghanistan.
Asked if she hit the targets, Haley shot back: “Of course – and I did it in heels.”
A new core constituency for Graham? (Democrats)
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is not making friends in the Tea Party, and that has given at least one Democrat an idea.
“I and many SC Dems can be persuaded to cast ballots in the GOP Primary,” the self-identified S.C. Democratic voter emailed The Buzz last week. “These Tea Party types have been annoying me, and if all I can do to make them (unhappy) is by voting for Graham, I’ll get over it.”
Andrew Shain contributed. Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.