Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The anti-incumbent

Andy Brack looks at the key primary races to watch next month

By about 10 p.m. June 10 – the day of South Carolina’s primaries – we ought to know whether this is really the year of the anti-incumbent.
So far, we’re well on our way. Most election years, incumbents get little, if any, opposition in their own party primaries. But this year – the season of Obama and change – people on the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle seem to be extra-empowered to take on sitting members of the House and Senate.

On the Republican side, 13 of 25 primaries for the S.C. House involve challengers taking on incumbents. In 11 Senate GOP primaries, eight contests feature battles with incumbents.
It’s about the same on the Democratic side where 13 of 24 S.C. House primaries involve challengers to incumbents. In 12 Senate Democratic primaries, seven pit challengers against incumbents.
All totaled, 57 percent of primary contests this year have challengers taking on incumbent members of the House or Senate.
That’s a pretty big deal – and it has some incumbents worried, according to a senior House GOP member who isn’t facing opposition.
“There’s an anti-incumbency feel out there,” he said. “Part of it is the perceived acrimony between the governor’s office and the General Assembly.
“The campaign the governor has had in the last six years against the General Assembly is having an impact on the public. It’s opened the door that incumbents are fair game.”
Bob Knight, a conservative Greenville government affairs consultant, pointed to the way the state had been redistricted as a reason for more party primaries. Many districts, he said, now were one-party districts that required anyone with political ambitions to run against a fellow party member if he or she wanted to serve in the Statehouse.
He said there also appeared to be a restlessness among voters.
“I wouldn’t want to be a Republican incumbent in this environment,” Knight said. “The electorate doesn’t think the Congress has done a good job, the President has done a good job, the General Assembly has done a good job and they’re paying $3.50 for a gallon of gas.
“They’re going to take it out on somebody.”
Others credited the “Obama factor” – the enthusiasm that presidential candidate Barack Obama brought for public service and change to South Carolina during its long, but early presidential primary.
“People are inspired to get in and run this year,” said Carol Khare, chair of the S.C. Democratic Party. “People want to be part of it.”
Here are some key primary races to watch next month in which incumbents may be vulnerable:
HOUSE 21: Six-term House Republican Bob Leach of Greer is being challenged by well-funded retired Stone Container CEO Bill Wylie of Simpsonville.
HOUSE 22: Rep. Gloria Haskins, R-Greenville, is being challenged by Wendy Nanney, daughter of Dean Bob Taylor of Bob Jones University. In what doesn’t seem like a coincidence, Haskin’s son, Bryan, filed to run against Taylor, a Greenville County Council member, after Nanney filed.
HOUSE 68: Two challengers seek the seat held by Rep. Thad Viers, an Horry County Republican who last year pleaded no contest to accusations he threatened to assault a man dating his estranged wife.
HOUSE 94: Rep. Heyward Hutson, a Summerville Republican elected in October to fill a vacancy left when Converse Chellis became state treasurer, will again face Summerville lawyer Jenny Horne, who narrowly lost last year.
HOUSE 122: Rep. Curtis Brantley, the Jasper County Democrat who won a surprise victory in 2006 over then Rep. Thayer Rivers, will face Rivers and another challenger.
SENATE 7: Greenville Sen. Ralph Anderson faces three challengers, including Greenville Mayor Pro Tem Lillian Brock Flemming.
SENATE 13: GOP Sen. Jim Ritchie of Spartanburg faces two challengers, a feisty lawyer and a school board member.
SENATE 23: GOP Sen. Jakie Knotts of Lexington County is being challenged by Sanford-endorsed Katrina Shealy, former chair of the county’s GOP, and businessman Mike Sturkie.
SENATE 33: Democrat-turned-Republican Sen. Luke Rankin of Conway faces a serious challenge from Horry County Council chair Liz Gilland. R. Howard Bond II of Conway also is in the primary race.
SENATE 38: Sen. Randy Scott, the Dorchester County Republican recently arrested on a drunken driving charge he claimed was politically motivated, will vie for his seat against former Sen. Mike Rose.
SENATE 46: Former Sanford chief of staff Tom Davis is challenging GOP Sen. Catherine Ceips for the Beaufort County seat.

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