Politics & Government

SC Democratic Party elects new chair

Trav Robertson reacts to becoming the new SC Democratic Party chairman

Trav Robertson reacts to becoming the new SC Democratic Party chairman.
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Trav Robertson reacts to becoming the new SC Democratic Party chairman.

Political strategist Trav Robertson is the new chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party.

Still licking their wounds after the election losses of 2016, S.C. Democrats electing a new leader at their annual convention Saturday pinned their hopes on a battle-hardened campaign manager instead of a progressive grassroots activist.

“I’m going to work every day to create an organization that takes the fight to Republicans in this state,” said Robertson, 42, who has more than 20 Democratic campaigns under his belt.

Robertson will replace outgoing chairman Jaime Harrison, who has stepped down after four years for a new job at the Democratic National Committee.

He beat out Pawleys Island activist Susan Smith, getting votes from 66 percent of the 850 convention delegates. Cedric Blain-Spain of Conway finished a distant third, but not before grumbling the election had been dirty and unfair.

Democrats are largely backseat drivers in South Carolina, where Republicans control both chambers of the State House, all 11 of the state’s constitutional offices and U.S. Senate seats and six of the Palmetto State’s seven U.S. House seats.

Robertson’s supporters billed him as the only candidate who can start to turn back the GOP tide.

“Trav Robertson is a winner,” former state Rep. Anton Gunn, D-Richland, told the convention. “He knows how to take a district from red to blue. ... I got elected in a red district because Trav Robertson knew what he was doing.”

Robertson most recently ran Richland Democrat Mia McLeod’s successful S.C. Senate campaign last fall. The University of South Carolina graduate and former state deputy treasurer also managed state Sen. Vincent Sheheen’s failed 2010 gubernatorial run.

McLeod told delegates that Robertson last fall gave her the advice she needed, not what she wanted to hear.

“He’s exactly who we need to rekindle our relationship with the voters of South Carolina,” she said.

Democratic state Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg, Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster and John King of York had backed Smith, calling her a bridge-builder who could bring the party’s progressive and establishment voters under the same tent.

“We have to let them in,” Smith told delegates. “At the end of the day, it is about winning elections.”

Robertson promised to put together a finance team that would study how to raise more money for the party. He also pledged to build a wave of energy behind Democratic candidates in upcoming special elections.

“Special elections are about turnout,” Robertson said. “So we’re fixing to get ready for battle.”

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks