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Leading South Carolina: It's time to elect a new governor

South Carolina's voters will go to the polls twice this year to determine winners in nine statewide races.

The U.S. Senate seat now held by Jim DeMint and the state's eight constitutional officers will be on the ballot.

But the most money and public interest will pour into electing a new governor, as a term-limited Gov. Mark Sanford finishes his final year.

There are 11 candidates - five Republicans and six Democrats - seeking the seat so far. A 12th candidate is running as an independent. Not since the 1994 election cycle have South Carolinians seen such a large, unwieldy field of candidates with the financing and support to make it to the summer's primaries. The state's electorate could be split in new and unexpected ways, creating the opportunity for a successful dark horse candidate.

Two Republicans - U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett of Oconee and S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster of Columbia - have already raised more than $1 million. Not far behind is Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer of Greenville. State Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Kershaw leads the Democrats in fundraising with more than $700,000. And S.C. Education Superintendent Jim Rex, a Democrat, is expected to post strong fundraising numbers this quarter.

If a dark horse has a shot, it could be Lexington Rep. Nikki Haley, a Republican and the only woman in the race. Another could be former lobbyist Dwight Drake, a Columbia Democrat who successfully sued to force Sanford to take federal stimulus money he had refused. Charleston attorney Mullins McLeod, now second among Democrats in fundraising, will have the finances to run strong.

The true long shots might be Republican Sen. Larry Grooms of Berkeley and Democratic Sen. Robert Ford of Charleston. But with a wide field, any candidate is viable.