At least seven S.C. House lawmakers five Republicans and two Democrats may not seek re-election in 2014, sending Republican and Democratic leaders searching for their replacements.
Instead of seeking re-election, most of those House members are considering races for higher office, largely focusing on two races for superintendent of education and lieutenant governor.
State Reps. Mike Anthony and Bakari Sellers, both Democrats, have said they will run for state superintendent of education and lieutenant governor, respectively.
Sellers seat is in heavily Democratic Bamberg County. But Anthonys Union County district is in Republican territory and figures to be hotly contested. Former state Rep. David Tribble, who was drawn out of his House district during the 2010 redistricting, says he will run for Anthonys seat as a Republican.
Union County had a Republican representative before Mike Anthony, and it has gone Republican in the last two presidential elections, Tribble said. I think Union County would be open to somebody that comes over there and makes a case for state government that has to do with conservative values.
Two Republican representatives, Andy Patrick and Shannon Erickson, both of Beaufort County, also are considering running for higher office, potentially opening up their seats in the 124-member House. Both may run for education superintendent after GOP incumbent Mick Zais has said he will not seek a second term.
And if Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell decides not to run, state Rep. Ralph Norman, R-York, is considering a bid to succeed the Charleston Republican. York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant could run as a Republican to replace Norman in the House.
Two longtime Republican lawmakers Reps. Roland Smith of Aiken and B.R. Skelton of Pickens likely will retire.
Smith, entering his 26th year at the State House, is expected to announce his decision at the Jan. 13 meeting of the Aiken County legislative delegation. Skelton said he is still considering his options. But Republican insiders expect both to retire.
This spring will be my 12th year there, and Im no spring chicken, Skelton said.
Ed Harris might run to replace Skelton. Harris defeated Skelton in the 2012 Republican Primary only to have that victory vacated by a state Supreme Court ruling that removed more than 200 candidates from ballots statewide.
This last go-round, I spent $20,000 on the campaign and spent $25,000 defending myself (in litigation). I got kind of a bad taste in my mouth, said Harris, 72. Id really like to see some young conservatives run. (But) Im not going to let this guy run unchallenged.
Incumbents in trouble?
Meanwhile Republican representatives in Spartanburg and Charleston will face serious opposition.
In Charleston, Russell Guerard is challenging 18-year incumbent Chip Limehouse. Limehouse appears to be suffering from the same political malady that afflicted former state Sen. David Thomas a poor showing in a congressional election.
Thomas, then a state senator from Greenville, ran for the 4th District congressional seat then held by U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis in the 2010 Republican primary, finishing fourth. Two years later, Thomas a 26-year incumbent attracted four challengers in the GOP primary for his state Senate seat, and finished third.
Likewise, Limehouse sought the Republican nomination for the 1st District congressional seat in a special election held last spring but finished seventh place despite spending $600,000 of his own money. Limehouse is also running in a newly redrawn district, where more than 60 percent of its residents live in Mount Pleasant. Both Limehouse and Guerard live in downtown Charleston, and many political operatives believe a third Republican candidate from Mount Pleasant will emerge soon.
Limehouse is one of the more powerful state legislators.
The chairman of the higher education subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, Limehouse also is on the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank Board, which earlier this year decided how to spend $555 million in new road money.
Asked if he would seek re-election, Limehouse told The State: Thats the plan. As for his poor showing in the congressional election, Limehouse said, There were 16 candidates in the race. Anybody can say what they want to say.
House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, called Limehouse a good Republican, and said the GOP caucus will support his re-election.
Whenever you start looking at other (offices), folks who want to take yours start coming out of the woodworks, Bannister said. Well be behind Chip.
In Spartanburg, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System executive Patrick Caster is challenging two-term incumbent Derham Cole.
Caster is one of several Republicans challenging established GOP members in Spartanburg, the headquarters of the states Tea Party movement.
Businesswoman Gaye Holt one of the more than 200 candidates who were removed from the ballot in 2012 because of improper paperwork is running against state Rep. Mike Forrester. And some GOP insiders expect Evan Mulch to run again against Rep. Eddie Tallon.
Both Forrester and Tallon are Spartanburg Republicans.
The Spartanburg Tea Party is actively recruiting candidates to run in GOP primaries, but without much success, said Karen Martin, the groups president.
People were really discouraged after the (2012) ballot debacle, she said. People that might have considered it said, This is just not worth it.
Democrats aiming at Finlay?
In the Midlands, Democrats have their eye on state Rep. Kirkman Finlay the lone Republican House holdout to live in solidly blue Richland County. Finlay, a former Columbia city councilman, narrowly defeated Democrat Joe McCulloch in 2012.
However, in 2010, Vincent Sheheen, the Democratic candidate for governor, won Finlays district with 60 percent of the vote, according to Tyler Jones with the House Democratic Caucus.
With Vincent Sheheen on the top of the ticket (again in 2014), and with a formidable Democrat, we can win that seat, Jones said.
But Democrats do not appear to have a candidate lined up to run for that seat yet. McCulloch declined to comment when asked if he would run again. However, any Democrat who seeks the House District 75 could have a tough time going up against Finlay, one of the Houses top fundraisers.
Anybody can get beat. But I would imagine that turnout will be a little tougher this time because the president is not on the top of the ticket, Finlay said. And, unfortunately, for the Democrats, Mr. Sheheen does not draw like the president.
Elsewhere in Richland County, it appears Republicans will not mount an effort to unseat freshman Democratic state Rep. Beth Bernstein, who defeated Republican incumbent Joan Brady in 2012.
Brady told The State newspaper she would not run again for her former District 78 House seat, adding, It would be somewhat difficult for a Republican to win that seat, or any seat in Richland County for that matter.
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.