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Race taking shape in new South Carolina district

By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report

October 11, 2011

When the 2010 census was concluded, the Palmetto State gained a seventh congressional district. The state legislature centered the new district on the fast-growing Myrtle Beach area, a magnet for snowbirds moving South for sun and golf. The district leans Republican, but is not a lead pipe cinch for the GOP. Although John McCain carried the district in 2008, the district is 28 percent African-American, providing a substantial Democratic base.

With no incumbent, the new district initially had a flock of politicos considering a race for the seat, but few candidates have made clear moves toward running.

Only two candidates have announced.

State Rep. Thad Viers of Myrtle Beach, an ally of Gov. Nikki Haley, has already received her endorsement. He is popular with the Tea Party insurgents in Horry County. And as of September 30, he had raised $100,000. “It’s Viers to lose,” says one Republican insider.

Attorney Parnell Diggs, president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina has also announced his candidacy. He has limited support.

Other politicos are looking at the race, but have not announced they will run.

Andre Bauer, former lieutenant governor who lost his 2010 bid for governor (12 percent in the four-way primary), has told the press he will probably run. He has some baggage – speeding tickets, etc. – but is an indefatigable campaigner. He would have strong support from the GOP establishment in the district. In previous contests, Bauer has carried Horry County in the General Election, but not in the primary. His attachment to the district could be an issue. He only recently purchased a home in Myrtle Beach. (One insider claims Bauer “has a house in every district,” and previously called Saluda, Greenville and Charleston Counties home.)

Former Gov. David Beasley gets mentioned, but probably won’t run. If he does, he would be formidable, especially in the Pee Dee section of the district, not the most populous.

Carroll Campbell III, son of the late governor, is also getting mentioned, though he isn’t likely to run. In 2010, he came in third (14 percent in a nine-way race) in the 1st District (Charleston, etc.) congressional GOP primary.

State Rep. Alan Clemmons, who helped carve out the new district, gets a lot of mention as a potential candidate. The rumor mill has it that he won’t run, but he hasn’t publicly ruled himself out.

Katherine Jenerette is a conservative activist and veteran of the Persian Gulf War. In her last contest, she garnered 5 percent in a 9-way 1st District congressional race.  She is looking at the 2012 race.

State Rep. Phillip Lowe of Florence County was instrumental in getting the 7th District located in the PeeDee section of the state. A conservative, he is among 21 Palmetto State lawmakers who have endorsed Rick Perry for president. He may or may not run.

Mande Wilkes is a glamorous TV star and author. The Washington Times named her to its list of the “30 hottest political women of 2011.”  Says one insider, “She’s sharp.” Says another: “She probably wouldn’t get much traction” in a congressional primary, though she did get 46 percent in a GOP state House primary in 2010. She hasn’t said she’ll run, or that she won’t.

At least a half-dozen other Republican politicos in the new district have been mentioned in the media as potential contenders, but their candidacies have not materialized.

Republicans in Horry County, the district’s largest and the home of Myrtle Beach, are currently in the midst of a bitter battle between the established GOPers, who have worked long in the vineyard, and newcomers, many associated with the Tea Party. Given these hostile cross-currents within the GOP, letting every voice be heard will be an important part of holding the party together after next year’s primary. To that end, in January the state Republican Party will hold a debate in Myrtle Beach for the congressional candidates.

On the Democratic side – and the GOP doesn’t have a lock here – state Sen. Dick Elliott is the most likely nominee. He has served in the legislature for 29 years – 10 in the House, 19 in the Senate. He owns Elliott Beach Rentals. His legislative biography touts his belief in “better government, not more government.”

There is the possibility that the Justice Department will not approve the state’s congressional remap, mainly on the grounds – not used previously – that it does not include more “black influence” districts, i.e., districts with a sufficiently high African-American population to influence the outcome. The state’s NAACP has already criticized the redistricting plan. For now, however, folks are behaving like the new 7th is there to stay, at least for a decade.

Candidates must file between March 16 and March 30, 2012. The primary is June 12, with runoffs as needed on June 26.


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