By James G. Wiles
Republicans Shouldn’t Take the New Congressional Seat Here for Granted
Here we are in another Presidential election year. Earlier this month, all the GOP presidential candidates were in town for the big “First in the South” GOP Presidential Primary Debate on Monday night at the Convention Center.
So maybe you’re thinking (like most Republicans along the Grand Strand): even if the national election is in doubt, at least the GOP is going to pick up one more Congressional seat from South Carolina. That spanking new Seventh Congressional District just created here as a result of the 2010 Census, it’s good our name is written all over it. After all, this is “America’s reddest state.”
You might want to re-think that. Check the map.
If the 2012 Congressional vote in the eight counties of Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon, Florence (except for the area around Ollanta and Lake City), Georgetown, Horry, Marion and Marlboro which make up SC-7 comes in like it did in 2008, the Democrats will carry the District by 27,000 votes. That means a second Democrat Congressman in South Carolina to add to the SC-5 seat, which has been held since 1992 by Democrat James Clyburn.
Let me repeat that: on its face, and assuming President Barack Obama is at the top of the Democratic ticket, the Democrats may well carry SC-7. That’s the dimension of the challenge facing the potential GOP nominee.
The Congressional race has started, too. It’s a crowded field, although two GOPers have dropped out in the last week.
The first SC-7 Congressional candidates debate was held in Columbia on Tuesday. A GOP Candidates Forum is being conducted by the South Carolina GOP at Ripley’s Aquarium this Sunday night at 7 p.m. It’s one event out of many being held around Myrtle Beach as part of the GOP Presidential Debate weekend. Go to sc.gop.com for details.
“But back to the stats,” as John Madden might say.
Granted, no political scientist would accept as valid my extrapolation of the 2012 vote based on the 2008 vote. That’s because SC-7 is made up of counties carved off of three other Congressional Districts The eight counties have never voted together as a unit before; and there’s no evidence that the average voter in, say Chesterfield, knows he’s now in the same Congressional District as Myrtle Beach. Or vice versa.
Yet, several reasons suggest that using the 2008 vote totals as a starting point for analysis makes sense.
First, there’s history. The new SC-7 occupies the area which once – prior to the re-districting of 1992- largely made up the old SC-6.
The old SC-6 was a reliable Democratic district. In its entire history, the GOP only carried it twice – and then promptly lost it back to the Democrats at the next cycle. Like the 2008 vote totals, that bit of history is suggestive. So’s the SC gubernatorial election in 2010.
Second, there’s SC-7’s ethnic, educational and economic make-up. As you can see, Horry – where, admittedly, 40% of the registration and 50% of the GOP vote is concentrated – is unrepresentative of the rest of SC-7.
The huge drop-off in the Democratic turn-out between 2008 and 2010 is attributable to the failure of African American voters to turn out in 2010. Yet, notice that in 2008, the total Democratic vote exceeded the total African American registration in the eight counties by 24,000. Even allowing for record black turn-out, that tells you that there’s a substantial white Democratic vote in SC-7.
Several counties in the District have stunning levels of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. Besides being home to several of the counties on the infamous “Corridor of Shame,” the Seventh Congressional District has three of the ten South Carolina counties with the highest unemployment rates in the state.
Even the nickname – “Pee Dee District” – is a misnomer. While the Great Pee Dee River runs through the heart of the District, from Georgetown to Cheraw, only five of SC-7’s counties are in the Pee Dee area. SC-7 actually comprises the Midlands, the Pee Dee and the Low Country. In other words: SC-7 is not homogenous at all.
With President Barack Obama again at the top of the ticket, how do the Republicans win SC-7? Well, a combination of the right candidate and higher voter turn-out.
The ideal GOP candidate would have, so to speak, one foot on each side of the Intracoastal. It’s no secret that the Beach and Florence/Darlington resent each other. The ideal GOP candidate needs to command support in both places. He or she would not be a lawyer and, preferably, would not be a career politican – although relevant experience would be desirable.
Second, even in 2008, 32% of registered voters did not vote.
Therein lies the Republican challenge – and the opportunity.
It’s likely that the Dems maxed out their vote totals in 2008. Any higher turn-out in 2012 is likely to trend Republican.
Thus, a Republican who can carry SC-7, if the person can also serve three terms, has the potential to leave a great legacy: a sixth, safe Republican seat in the Palmetto State.
SC-7 is anything but that now.
So much for prognostication. Here’s the only things which are certain about this year’s election for the new Congressional seat called “SC-7.” It’s wide open and it’s going to be fun.
And, oh, yeah, we’re going to have ringside seats.