March 19, 2013

Turnout will decide today’s congressional winners

In special elections like today’s 1st Congressional District primaries, turnout is almost certain to be light – about 30,000 voters, campaign officials speculate.

In special elections like today’s 1st Congressional District primaries, turnout is almost certain to be light – about 30,000 voters, campaign officials speculate.

With former Gov. Mark Sanford well in front of the GOP pack, according to most polls, the Republican able to join him in an expected runoff will have to turn out supporters at the polls en mass, according to advisers for the various campaigns.

“There are some high schools in Texas where you have to get more votes to be student government president than what it will take to come in second place in this race,” said Walt Whetsell, campaign adviser to GOP candidate John Kuhn, an attorney and former state senator. Whetsell consulted on Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign and led U.S. Rep. Tom Rice’s team to victory in November. “It’s all about turning out every one of your supporters.”

Sanford is expected to take about a third of the Republican vote and slide into a first-place finish. But he is not expected to take a majority, making an April 2 runoff against today’s second-place finisher likely.

Last-minute campaign rumblings and internal polls indicate Curtis Bostic, a former Charleston County Council member, is making a big push to be that candidate.

Bostic has put about $100,000 of his own money into the race, far less than some of the other challengers, and has run fewer TV spots. However, the Charleston attorney is picking up steam among evangelical church congregations and parents who home school their children.

Bostic belongs to both groups and has hosted radio shows on three Christian radio stations in the past 15 years.

“(Bostic) is not the big money guy and he’s not the guy that has big name ID,” said state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who has endorsed Sanford and is working to help him win. “And yet (Bostic) has been able to translate his social conservative grass roots network into a very strong second place.”

That goes against long-held South Carolina political theory that the Lowcountry is a hotbed for fiscal conservatism but is more socially moderate than other parts of the state.

“But there seems to be a base that is getting his message out by word of mouth,” said Davis, adding he still believes Sanford will ultimately prevail because of his track record of fiscal conservatism during his time in Congress and as governor.

Other candidates have built-in bases of support, too.

State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, has a natural base in the Charleston area that he has represented since 1995 in the S.C. House of Representatives. His family is well-known in the area – his father, Buck, is the state’s former secretary of transportation, who ran unsuccessfully for the congressional seat in 2000.

Other candidates are taking a more tried-and-true approach: Using experienced ground-game workers.

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, is getting help from Allen Klump, a staffer for U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, who helped to lead get-out-the-vote efforts for the S.C. Republican Party in 2008.

“There’s a reason Alabama wins national championships. They block and tackle better than everybody else,” said Hogan Gidley, a Grooms spokesman and communications director for Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign. “So much of this thing (is) in a condensed time frame with so many candidates, you’ve got to block and tackle the best – focus on the fundamentals of getting your supporters out to the polls.”

Repeatedly reminding supporters to show up is another useful tactic.

“We’re taking the approach of harassing supporters to get them to the polls,” teased Whetsell, adding that Kuhn’s campaign volunteers are repeatedly calling supporters, reminding them to vote. The Kuhn campaign also is offering rides for those who live in assisted-living facilities or have other difficulties that prevent them from getting to the polls on their own.

Whoever is the eventual Republican nominee is expected to face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who squares off with Ben Frasier in that party’s primary today. The Charleston businesswoman is a sister of comedian Stephen Colbert.

Today’s primaries marks the first elections under the state’s new law requiring voters to bring their photo IDs to the polls.

Some theorize turnout could be driven even lower because voters do not know about the law. However, state election officials say they doubt the law will pose a problem.

More than 13,500 ballots were cast in last week’s special election to fill an Horry County Council spot. Fewer than 10 voters forgot or did not have a photo ID on them, said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the S.C. Election Commission.

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