The Buzz: Young voters target of new SC Democratic Party director

03/15/2014 6:16 PM

03/15/2014 6:18 PM

The S.C. Democratic Party has hired a young executive director to go after young voters.

Conor Hurley, 27, will start his new job Monday as filing gets under way for the June primary. One of the nation’s youngest state party directors, he already has worked on seven campaigns since graduating from Arizona State University with a political science degree.

Most recently, the Boston native was campaign manager for Tallahassee, Fla., City Commissioner Andrew Gillum’s 2014 run for mayor. Hurley’s other experiences include stints as policy coordinator for the Young Elected Officials Network, which works with politicians under 35, and aiding U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek’s unsuccessful 2010 U.S. Senate run in Florida and former U.S. Rep. Jim Martin’s unsuccessful 2008 U.S. Senate race in Georgia.

Hurley came by politics organically. His parents met while working on the congressional campaign for Robert Drinan in Massachusetts in the 1970s.

In a Red-heavy state where Republicans hold all but one of the 18 major state and federal offices, Hurley will try to entice the next generation of voters to turn South Carolina more Blue.

“Studies show if you vote three times in a row for a party, you typically stick with that party for life,” he said. “In a state with so many young people, we can get in there earlier and make them lifelong Democrats.”

S.C. Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison said Hurley combines the ability to attract young voters with the experience from working in the field.

“Part of what we want to do is look long term,” Harrison said. “Conor will refine our strategy.”

Hurley said his efforts will include getting young voters’ attention through technology and social media.

“You have to meet them on their level,” he said. “They are more connected, more intelligent than they have ever been before.”

Hurley will compete with another young party boss in 31-year-old Matt Moore, the S.C. Republicans chairman and executive director. Hurley succeeds Amanda Loveday, who left the post after three years to become communications director for U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia.

Hurley’s main goal this year will be the S.C. governor’s race where State Sen. Vincent Sheheen will try again to beat Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. Sheheen lost to Haley by 4.5 percentage points in 2010. National pundits have the race leaning Haley’s way, but some see the potential for an upset.

“In 2014, we’re in a strong position,” Hurley said. “Our top priority is communicating to voters that Nikki Haley is not being accountable.”

But South Carolina’s other major races pose problems for Democrats.

Hurley will have to contend with the recent decisions by top Democrats to ditch their campaigns for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Tim Scott and the open state superintendent of education seat. No additional Democratic candidates formally have stepped forward since those departures two weeks ago.

“The party will compete,” Hurley said. “We’ll see who’s going to get in once filing closes (March 30).”

The fight over font sizes

The Buzz enjoys sharing on occasion how the sausage is made in S.C. politics.

In last week’s debate over the state’s proposed $24 billion budget, state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, rose to speak about her House amendment to restore $52,000 to the College of Charleston, money taken away for assigning a gay-themed book to freshmen.

The rub: Representatives just had blocked a similar amendment. One lawmaker objected that her request was repetitive.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, handed Cobb-Hunter copies of the two amendments and asked to explain how hers was different. Cobb-Hunter took a moment before speaking.

“The author of the amendment is different,” she declared as the chamber began to fill with laughter. “And I would say it’s different in the size of the font and punctuation.”

Amidst the chuckles, Harrell spiked Cobb-Hunter’s amendment.

But that was not the end.

Cobb-Hunter tweaked her amendment. How? She changed the line number in the budget where the money would go.

That was good enough for the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means committee to get her say – but not her way.

After her speech, the Republican-dominated House shelved her amendment just like the earlier one with the different font size.

Buzz Bites

•  Benjamin Dunn, a Columbia attorney, became the seventh Republican to announce his intentions to challenge U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham last week. The Pickens County native has served as an infantry officer in the S.C. Army National Guard and was deployed to advise Afghan troops. “(The) loss of liberty has largely gone unnoticed as Americans have become too preoccupied with the machinations of celebrity and the minutiae of posts, texts and tweets to realize the extent to which government is increasing its influence over every aspect of our lives,” Dunn wrote in a news release.
•  U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia will deliver the S.C. Democratic Party’s 2014 Jefferson Jackson Dinner keynote speech on May 2. The fundraiser will honor former governor and U.S. education secretary Dick Riley. Vice President Joe Biden, who is considering a 2016 presidential run, spoke at the dinner last year. Kaine is considered a possible vice presidential choice by Hillary Clinton if she runs. The S.C. GOP has not announced a speaker for its Silver Elephant Dinner, which drew U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a potential 2016 White House candidate, last year. State Republicans reportedly are looking at holding the fundraiser in the summer when more speakers might be available.
•  Haley travels cross country to speak at the San Francisco GOP’s Lincoln Reagan Dinner on Thursday. She also spoke at the Dallas County GOP’s Reagan Day Dinner last month. The dinners are usually the year’s largest fundraisers for local political parties.

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