All the big jobs are up for grabs in the Palmetto state

April 5, 2014


Rock Hill, South Carolina

GENTEEL and friendly is the image of South Carolina—until the political season rolls round. Then no holds are barred. This year, all the highest statewide offices are up for grabs: the governorship, both US Senate seats and all seven seats in the House of Representatives. Such bounty is unusual, and South Carolinians are rubbing their hands.

The bonanza has happened because Jim DeMint resigned his Senate seat in 2013 to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, in Washington, DC. The state’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, appointed Tim Scott, then a congressman, to fill the seat pending a special election.

Mr Scott, South Carolina’s first black senator, is one of only two blacks in the Senate. Although the state’s Republican voters are mostly white, he is wildly popular with them. “He is the living, breathing embodiment of our conservative values,” explained Wes Climer, a local Republican official, at an early-morning pow-wow last week at the Rock Hill-York County airport featuring doughnuts, coffee and Mr Scott, who is touring the state to kick off his election campaign.

Mr Scott has only token opposition in the Republican primary in June, and should win handily in November. Still, he does not please everyone. “A ventriloquist can always find a good dummy,” said the Rev William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, a black lobby group, in January. Mr Scott, he suggests patronisingly, is just a pawn for the extreme right.

South Carolina’s other senator, Lindsey Graham, hopes to be re-elected to his third term in November. First, however, he must fend off six Republicans to the right of him in the primary on June 10th. A seventh would-be challenger, an ex-police officer called Dave Feliciano, recently tried to draw blood by claiming that the senator is “ambiguously gay”. Mr Graham, who is single, insists that he is not homosexual, but the charge has dogged him for years. Having made it again, Mr Feliciano decided not to enter the race.

A thoughtful conservative and a foreign-policy hawk, Mr Graham has more than $7.6m to spend and no strong Democratic opposition, so his seat is probably safe. His supporters point out that this is a good thing: he is one of the few Republicans left in the polarised Senate who will occasionally work with the Democrats.

Jan Collins 2021-circle-crop

Jan Collins is a Columbia, South Carolina-based journalist, editor, and author. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard and former Congressional Fellow in Washington, D. C., she is the coauthor of Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life (Quill Driver Books, 2009).