Wednesday, September 29, 2010

South Carolina Governor Race

Race of the Day

South Carolina Governor

September 29, 2010
34 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2008 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Likely Republican

In South Carolina, a scandal plagued Republican Governor is leaving office after two terms, but it speaks to the local strength of the state's GOP, that he is expected to be replaced by another Republican.

Throughout his eight years as Governor, Republican Mark Sanford has often clashed with his own party's legislators and with many more "good ole' boy" conservatives. Sanford himself was considered a champion of fiscal conservatism and talked about as a potential future national candidate. That all changed last summer though as Sanford's personal life became a soap opera after he was forced to admit to an extra-marital affair with a woman in Argentina he called his "soul mate." Efforts, led by Republicans, to force him to resign or to impeach him for using government money to conduct the affair did not eventually pan out, and Sanford's approval numbers are surprisingly decent enough again now. His wife, who also helped run his campaigns has now divorced him though, but she remains a force in South Carolina politics herself.

The Republican field for Governor was full of promising candidates, but before his personal situation, Sanford was believed to be pushing the candidacy of a rare legislative ally on fiscal matters in State Representative Nikki Haley, an attractive young woman of Indian-American descent. She did not fit the profile of the typical South Carolina pol, but was considered a rising star in the party. Still, few gave her much of a chance against Lt. Governor Andre Bauer (who was rebuffed by Sanford later on when he called on him to step down as Governor, in exchange for Bauer serving as the new Governor, but not seeking the office in 2010), state Attorney General Henry McMaster, and Congressman Gresham Barrett.

Things looked especially dicey for Haley after the Sanford scandal exploded, but as the only woman in the race, and the one considered the most conservative on economic matters, she began to pick up steam and Tea Party support. First Lady Jenny Sanford endorsed her candidacy as did national party figures Mitt Romney and later Sarah Palin. As a Haley insurgent victory looked more likely, rumors and allegations began to circulate that she had engaged in an extra-marital affair. In the wake of Sanford's adultery, this had the potential to be deadly to her campaign, but she vigorously denied the charge, and the voters seemed to rally behind her, considering it to be an ugly, ungentlemanly political smear.

It is likely the dirt flung at Haley helped her further and in the June primary, she easily captured first place, and just barely below the threshold for avoiding a runoff against the second place finisher, Congressman Barrett. The conventional wisdom was that she would easily win the runoff just two weeks later, and that Barrett would be wise to concede that to her early. He stayed in though until the end and was trounced by over 30 points.

The nomination contest on the Democrat side was a bit quieter and did not require a runoff. The nominee is State Senator Vincent Sheehen who at the age of 39 is just a year older than his now Republican opponent. He started off as a bit of an underdog too, but easily outpaced the party's one remaining statewide constitutional officer, as well as a longtime African-American State Senator.

With two representatives of a new political generation, South Carolina is faced with an interesting contest, but the conservative nature of the state and an expected strong year for Republicans has made Haley the clear frontrunner from the beginning of the general election. There may be some lingering doubts about her from the "old guard" of the state party, and that could cause her some problems as Governor, but she seems in a good position to get there, as polls have consistently given her a lead over the Democrat of about fifteen points.

After this election in the Pelican State, attention will switch for many to the status the state holds as the first in the South Presidential primary and the fact that since it became a major political event, no Republican has managed to be nominated for the Presidency without winning South Carolina. An endorsement by a Governor Nikki Haley will be in high demand. While potential candidate Mike Huckabee endorsed one of his 2008 supporters (who wound up coming in last in the GOP primary), Palin is credited for helping garner conservative momentum for Haley. Whether or not the former Alaska Governor ultimately runs, it is worth remembering that Mitt Romney endorsed Haley in the primary first, returning the favor she payed him when as a back bench State Senator, she supported his bid for the White House in 2008.

Haley campaign link:

2010 Governor races predicted thus far: 7 D, 22 R, 1 I
Predicted Gubernatorial totals thus far: 14 D, 28 R, 1 I