Politics & Government

GOP candidates fear Trump could hurt their chances in SC

By Kirk Brown

Anderson Independent Mail

In-person absentee voting began last week at the Anderson County Board of Voter Registration and Elections office on North Main Street in downtown Anderson.
In-person absentee voting began last week at the Anderson County Board of Voter Registration and Elections office on North Main Street in downtown Anderson. Independent Mail

Joshua Putnam and Anne Thayer are afraid that Donald Trump's past lewd remarks about women may hurt their chances of getting re-elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives.

"I am scared that Republicans will stay home," Putnam said.

He is being challenged by Democrat Anna Brown in House District 10, which covers parts of Anderson, Greenville and Pickens counties.

Thayer also is worried about a lower than usual turnout of GOP voters. She is opposed by Democrat Mary Geren in House District 9, which stretches from Anderson to Pelzer.

Such fears are warranted, said U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who visited Anderson last week.

"It definitely should be concerning to all of us that voters will be disgusted with the process," said Scott, a Republican from North Charleston who also is seeking re-election.

Scott said that Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, and Democratic Party standard-bearer Hillary Clinton "should be ashamed of themselves" for waging the most negative campaigns that he has seen in his lifetime.

Like several other Republicans interviewed last week, Scott said he will vote for Trump because he dreads the prospect of Clinton making appointments to the Supreme Court.

"You are choosing between the lesser of two evils," he said.

When asked if she will support Trump, Thayer responded,"I would never vote for Hillary."

South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison said he wouldn't be surprised if GOP candidates suffer from the backlash over comments that Trump made in a 2005 videotape that recently surfaced. In the tape, the Manhattan real estate tycoon bragged that his status as a "star" enabled him to grope women.

"There are a lot of moderate Republicans who are good people. They don't want to be associated with those type of things," said Harrison, who also was in Anderson last week.

He predicted that the "Trump effect" will lead to a "number of surprises on Election Day."

South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison speaks Tuesday at a town hall meeting in Anderson. (Photo: Kirk Brown/Independent Mail)

While South Carolina is a strongly Republican state, Clemson University political science professor David Woodard said Democrats may win a few down-ballot races in next month's election.

"If that is ever going to happen, it could happen this time," he said.

Matt Moore, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said GOP candidates "should take nothing for granted."

"National factors play a role in every election and always effect turnout, so that's why we're doing extra work this year," said Moore, adding that Republican Party officials have sent out more than 250,000 requests for absentee ballots. "Given that intense level of work, it would be very surprising to lose statewide or state legislative seats."

Trump still favored in S.C.

Paul Stafford cast an absentee ballot Thursday for the Independence Party's presidential candidate.

"Evan McMullin is the only candidate for president that I can vote for with a clear conscience," said Stafford, who lives in Anderson County. "Neither Trump nor Clinton has the morals to govern this country, which was founded on the principles of honesty and respect for life."

Mike Kay, chairman of the Anderson County Democratic Party, said a number of voters who backed Republicans in the past have stopped by his party's office in downtown Anderson to pick up Clinton signs.

Nonetheless, Trump is still viewed as the front-runner in South Carolina, which has not gone for a Democratic presidential hopeful since 1976.

A Winthrop Poll conducted last month showed Trump with a 4-point lead over Clinton in the state. The respected FiveThirtyEight website says Trump has a 91 percent chance of winning South Carolina, while Scott's chances to win another term in the U.S. Senate are pegged at nearly 99 percent.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan also is seen as a prohibitive favorite in his bid for a fourth term in the state's 3rd Congressional District. Two years ago, he received 71 percent of the votes in the district that covers much of western South Carolina, including Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties.

Outside South Carolina, however, the GOP's prospects appear far bleaker. Trump's poll numbers have dropped in North Carolina and other key battleground states, and the FiveThirtyEight website currently gives Clinton an 85 percent chance of winning the White House. The same website says Democrats now have a 60 percent chance of reclaiming control of the U.S. Senate.

Contested S.C. House races

Three Anderson County Democrats — Brown, Geren and Barbara Jo Mullis — are running for seats in the state House this year. That equals the combined number of Democrats who ran for the 11 House seats in Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties in 2012 and 2014. Republicans currently control all of those seats.

Harrison, the state Democratic Party chairman, said "there is something different going on in this election cycle."

Trump has been "the best recruiter I ever had for the Democratic Party," he added.

Dan Harvell, chairman of the Anderson County Republican Party, predicted that the incumbent GOP House members who are being challenged — Putnam, Thayer and Rep. Jonathon Hill of Townville — will win their races.

"I don't think they are in danger," Harvell said.

Harvell said Thayer probably faces the toughest race because Geren is the most formidable Democratic foe.

"Anne is very aware of her opponent," he said.

Thayer, who is seeking a fourth term, was out knocking on doors in her district Tuesday before attending a campaign event in Anderson with state House Speaker Jay Lucas.

"I am working hard, and I am going to continue to work hard," Thayer said. "There are two ways to run an election: unopposed and scared."

At her campaign event, Lucas downplayed concerns about dissatisfaction with Trump leading to a low turnout of GOP voters.

"That may be true in other states," he said. "South Carolinians have always wanted to go out and exercise their right to vote, and they will in this election also."

Geren and several other Democratic candidates spoke to voters at a town hall meeting at the Westside Community Center in Anderson on the same night as Thayer's campaign event.

Harrison, who attended the Democratic gathering, called Geren one of his party's "best candidates." He also said Thayer must have "some concern if you bring the speaker of the house in."

Geren, an English instructor at Tri-County Technical College who is seeking elected office for the first time, is unsure how much of a factor Trump will play in her race.

"This is a local election," she said.

Mullis, a retired teacher from Townville who lost to Duncan two years ago, said Democrats in House District 8 are "fired up" about her campaign to unseat Hill. The district covers western Anderson County.

"I am getting a very good feeling about this," she said.

Hill, who founded the Anderson tea party, has been openly disdainful of Trump. While acknowledging that his stance has prompted "questions and concerns" among some voters, he said he remains confident about winning a second term.

Brown is a first-time candidate from Easley who works with the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice. She suspects that Trump's troubles will influence races in the Upstate and elsewhere.

"I do believe that local and national elections will feel the impact of Trump's controversy and that Republicans, even in the reddest states, may choose to endorse a different party," she said.

Her incumbent opponent, Putnam, wonders if there will be more damaging revelations about Trump before voters head to the polls.

"I usually get excited about elections," said Putnam, who has served in the state House since 2011. "But this election, I'm just like 'Lord, let it be over.'"

Future damage

Even though they belong to different political parties, Scott and Harrison agree that Trump's legacy for Republicans will endure beyond this year's election.

"He has already had a dramatic negative impact on the Republican Party," Scott said. "And I can't imagine that it won't continue for some time to come."

Harrison offered an even more ominous prediction about the carnage facing his partisan rivals as a result of Trump's candidacy.

"He may be the death of the modern Republican party," Harrison said.

Voices:

Several South Carolina politicians offered their thoughts about the derogatory comments that Donald Trump made about women in a 2005 videotape that was recently made public.

"His comments were indefensible and disgusting." — U.S. Sen. Tim Scott

"As a father to three boys who has taught them that women are to be cherished and respected, I found Donald Trump's comments to be horrendous and indefensible. That being said, my support for Mr. Trump remains unchanged, and I continue to be more concerned with Hillary Clinton's actions than I am with Donald Trump's words." — U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan

"I wouldn't want him left in a room alone with my wife or my sons." — State Rep. Joshua Putnam

"I cannot put into words how revolting it was." — Democratic state House candidate Barbara Jo Mullis

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