The Tea Party movement is making headlines, but Republican candidates also must depend on the party activists who vote year after year - no matter the issues - and the business community concerned about the economy and economic development.
The importance of the groups is evident in the gubernatorial candidates' pitches: U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett is pushing his business endorsements; Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer is seeking those who oppose big government entitlements; Attorney General Henry McMaster is a former S.C. GOP chairman and is also opposing the health care law supported by President Barack Obama; Lexington state Rep. Nikki Haley is courting Tea Party activists who want to trim government spending and clean out the good ol' boy network.
Spartanburg Tea Party activist Karen Martin said she has seen mixed results about whether the thousands of dissatisfied citizens who have gathered at rallies the past year and a half will turn out in the same numbers for primary day June 8. Many of those in the Tea Party movement said they are new to political activism, and Martin said she and other Tea Party groups have needed to emphasize the importance of primary votes in a state where Republicans control general elections.
"If you wait until November you really don't have a choice," Martin said she has been telling the newcomers. Martin said results from some recent primaries - such as establishment Republican wins in Indiana earlier this month - have caused her concern that the Tea Party is not converting energy into votes. But Martin is confident that South Carolina will be more like Utah, where the GOP threw out U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett during its convention nomination, in part because of his vote for the Troubled Assets Relief Program, which many consider a bank bailout.
The Tea Party has been organizing at the precinct level, and members of a Columbia Tea Party group said they will be providing rides to the polls in a get-out-the-vote effort. Martin thinks the Tea Party movement has been successful in emphasizing fiscal issues first, over social and other issues that typically concern Republican voters.
Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said it is unclear how the Tea Party will influence a Republican primary, typically determined by party activists. State Republicans should keep their eyes on the results of Tuesday's primary in Kentucky, Huffmon said. Tea Party voters may be the most motivated to turn out, but party activists have a proven track record. The question is how much their interests overlap.
"If the committed mainstream partisans turn out in full force," Huffmon said by e-mail, "the candidate who appeals to them, not the fringe, will win."
Florence dentist Mary Tepper is one of those GOP activists, supporting a number of campaigns. This year she is backing attorney general candidate Leighton Lord and gubernatorial candidate Andre Bauer. Tepper said job creation and the economy were her top concerns, and because she works for the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, she is seeking solutions for the state's budget crunch.
"We're being asked to do more with less," Tepper said. "People are worried. People vote when it comes to their money."
But Tepper agreed that the national Democrats' policies had motivated newcomers.
"It's going to be a lot of independent people that get out and make the difference in this race," Tepper said. "I think we're going to see a lot of people who haven't necessarily voted."
Typically, social issues such as abortion and gay marriage are a prime concern among S.C. GOP voters. But the gubernatorial campaigns say they think social issues will take a back seat this year.
"Who cares who goes to church where?" Martin said. "Let's save our country and then worry about social issues."
The economy should be the No. 1 issue this summer and in November. Predictably, the business community has an interest in who will become the state's next governor as South Carolina tries to rebound from recession.
The S.C. Chamber of Commerce issued its their first endorsement, choosing Barrett. In the Upstate, business leaders in Greenville and Spartanburg have pooled their efforts to attempt to pry some political clout from Charleston.
"There's the feeling that the Upstate's gotten the short shrift," said Chip Felkel, a Greenville-based political consultant. "We're still a state rife with regionalism."
But Felkel too was skeptical about whether Tea Party voters could rally behind Republicans.
"I think we are going to have big numbers in the primary," Spartanburg Tea Party's Martin said. But that support may wane in November if mainstream Republicans carry the primaries.
"I don't know what will happen," Martin said before referencing the Revolutionary War Battle of Bunker Hill. "I think a lot of people are willing to live or die on the hill of conservatism."
Who wins and loses in the Republican primary will likely depend on which of these voters is most influential.
The Tea Party - These voters have the most hype, but it is unclear whether the affiliated groups can or will pull in the same direction. The groups are also new to get-out-the-vote efforts such as organizing rides and calling supporters to make sure they vote.
The die-hards - GOP activists are always the backbone of the primary, turning out every election day. The question is how much overlap there will be between Tea Party voters and the GOP faithful.
The business community - The next governor will play a big role in recovering from the recession. The business community, through campaign donations and influence, will play a big role in selecting that person.
Values voters - There isn't an issue before the public, such as gay marriage, to energize religious conservatives. The campaigns for governor do not expect those voters to do much organizing this campaign season. They expect those voters to make their decisions on whom to support based on economic and ideological positions.