If you were expecting to wake up after Election Day with Alvin Greene as your U.S. Senator, put down the bong and get ready to be disappointed. Alvin lost. Other races kept us guessing for most of the night, but several national media outlets called the race for incumbent Sen. Jim DeMint as soon as polls closed, and he was at the podium at 7:02 p.m. to lead a Republican charge through the evening. In the end, Republicans easily won the House from Democratic control, demoting Dem leaders Nancy Pelosi and South Carolina’s own Jim Clyburn.
U.S. Senate: DeMint‘s win wasn’t surprising, but there was a real hope that third-party or write-in candidates could make a nice-sized dent in the race. It was all for naught. DeMint’s 63-percent finish makes for a solid-looking victory when you don’t consider the context — he was facing a worst-candidate scenario from the Democrats. Alvin Greene did pull in 28 percent of the vote, with 356,969 people saying they’d rather have him than DeMint. So, there is that embarrassment. Green Party candidate Tom Clements received a respectable 9 percent of the vote, but third-party leaders were certainly hoping for a bigger bang in what was their best chance at a second-place finish. As inspired as we all were, it appears write-in candidates like Nathalie Dupree made little impact in the race, but she did plant a seed for the argument against DeMint in 2016 — the senator’s principled stance against earmarks threatens economic opportunity in Charleston and South Carolina. It’s time for a challenge, and we’re looking at you, Vincent Sheheen.
Congressional 1st District: Republican Tim Scott had many challengers, but little opposition at the polls as he easily won a truly historic victory, bringing an African American to Congress to represent Charleston 150 years after the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter. Scott has been understandably timid in noting the historical impact of his election, making this less about race and more about a conservative victory. And here’s hoping that perennial candidate Ben Frasier finally got this campaign stuff out of his system and the Democrats can field a competitive candidate in 2012. Third-party challengers had real hope for making a dent in the race, but failed in the end. At least two of the candidates I spoke with in the past few weeks recognized this was a difficult hurdle, but they were planning for a more spirited challenge in 2012.
Congressional 6th District: Democrat Jim Clyburn won’t be returning to Washington as House Majority Whip. But, in a year when incumbent Democrats were sent home in droves, heading back to Washington at all is something to celebrate. As a minority party leader, Clyburn’s role will be in cheerleading a turnaround. Like Republicans, it’s going to take a few election cycles for Democrats to return to power (and momentum really isn’t on their side heading toward 2012). Largely African-American, Clyburn’s district is always going to be a challenge for Republicans, particularly if they continue to offer up far-right candidates incapable of appealing to middle-of-the-road voters who are easily chased off by social conservative rants.
Governor: Tell me my eyes deceive me. Republican Nikki Haley, the leader of “the movement,” garnered only 51 percent of the vote? A win is a win, but in a deeply red state and in a year of such severe Democratic Party discontent, these aren’t winning numbers. Of the seven competitive races statewide, Haley just narrowly came in sixth among her fellow GOPers in the total number of votes — and Education Superintendent-elect Mick Zais at seventh was facing a Libertarian Party challenge from the right. Haley performed about as poorly as a Republican could in the current political climate, while Sheheen did about as well as a Democrat could do. That said, re-election is certain to come much easier than this win as long as all the tax troubles and affair claims are overshadowed by Haley’s performance over the next four years.
Lieutenant Governor: If we were all hoping to turn the page on controversial, headline-grabbing gaffes from our light gov, it was not an auspicious start for Republican Ken Ard. He easily beat Charleston’s own Ashley Cooper by more than 100,000 votes, but Election Day included the arrest of his 20-year-old son for allegedly driving under the influence, while campaign consultant Robert Cahaly was charged with allegedly paying for and disseminating illegal election calls against Democratic candidates, including local Statehouse Rep. Anne Peterson Hutto, who would go on to lose her re-election. Here’s hoping week two of the transition goes a little smoother. While Cooper lost, this first statewide race is good groundwork for another run.
Secretary of State: Republican Mark Hammond easily won as the rare scandal-free statewide incumbent (a difficult feat, let me tell you). God willing, this race for the state’s top paper-pusher won’t even be on the ballot in four years.
Attorney General: The death of the legacy candidate in South Carolina was greatly exaggerated. Republican Alan Wilson, the son of Congressman Joe “You Lie” Wilson, performed well in a statewide race. Democrat Matthew Richardson campaigned heavily on the charge that Wilson would continue the tradition of peddling fiercely partisan opinions and seething political ambition. In a year of a strong coordinated Republican message, the argument had no legs.
Education Superintendent: Republican Mick Zais should celebrate his win, particularly since he’d been grossly underestimated throughout the campaign. Several pundits and regular voters kept telling me this election cycle that the best opportunity for Democrats to find a statewide win was in this race. After all, we’ve had a Democratic superintendent for more than a decade. But, Democrat Jim Rex had the narrowest of victories in 2006 (455 votes statewide), and let us not forget that his resumé was much closer to Zais’ than fellow Democrat Frank Holleman. I can tell you that this is one race Republicans likely would have rather not won. It makes them wholly accountable for the lack of progress in schools statewide, and it’s clearly evident that progress is a long and arduous task and success is hard to quantify in four years — just ask Rex. If Democrats wanted to put up a real fight in 2014, the focus is going to be on education, and Zais will be the punching bag.
Comptroller General: Challenger Robert Barber, a local restaurateur at Bowens Island and a former Statehouse representative, did his best to highlight Republican incumbent Richard Eckstrom‘s ethical questions and personal scandals, but voters went with the two-term comptroller general. After running a close second in the lieutenant governor’s race in 2006, Barber was likely the Democrats’ best chance to unseat Eckstrom. He’ll likely appreciate the political breathing room after Election Day accusations from former mistress Kelly Payne that Eckstrom was stalking her house (allegedly leaving a campaign sign in her yard). It’s past time to get his house in order and finally get off of the late-night comedy circuit.
Agriculture Commissioner: Certainly one of the most effective campaign slogans on the statewide ticket came from Republican incumbent Hugh Weathers: “Ask a Farmer.” The confidence alone speaks volumes for the candidate and provides a strong argument for his success on Election Day. The scandal stumping hit a new level of intensity with Democrat Tom Elliott, who spent his entire time on the campaign trail spinning a conspiracy yarn about the new State Farmers Market. Even if the accusations he made were true, the story was so complicated and difficult to put together that Elliot predictably failed to sway voters. This wasn’t the easiest race to call, but it was close.
Adjutant General and Treasurer: Facing no Democratic opposition, Republicans Bob Livingston and Curtis Loftis had the easiest Election Day. We’d normally give Democrats hell for not even fielding a candidate, particularly for open statewide races, but these were two strong GOP candidates in a year that wasn’t going to be kind to a Democrat, anyway.
House District 115: Two years ago, Democrats kept primary loser Eugene Platt from running a third-party challenge in the general election, fearing that he would take just enough votes to give the seat to the Republicans. Platt was convinced that, if on the ballot, he could have won outright. We now know the Democrats were probably right. Republican Pete McCoy beat incumbent Democrat Anne Peterson-Hutto by 369 votes, with Platt coming in third with 1,114 votes. Would Hutto have taken the majority of those Platt voters? Would they have even shown up at the polls if Platt hadn’t been on the ballot? These questions are best left unanswered until 2012.
House District 119: It was a bad year for incumbents and Democrats, so it’s a laudable feat that incumbent Democrat Leon Stavrinakis won re-election in a historically Republican district. Stavrinakis’ solid win is indicative of his moderate approach and may be linked to his fierce campaign against “the fair tax.” The proposal would replace the state’s income tax with a larger sales tax. Stavrinakis’ win suggests the proposal isn’t ready for voter approval, but his strong argument has likely made him a nemesis for tax swap supporters.
County Council: Incumbents Joe McKeown, Dickie Schweers, and Chairman Teddie Pryor were unchallenged in the election. Newly elected members include Democrat Anna Johnson and Republican Joe Qualey. Both cut their teeth as early members of the James Island Town Council and their elections leave the partisan divide unchanged on the County Council for the next two years.
School Sales Tax: There was intense emotions on both sides of the school district’s six-year plan to pay for new construction with a penny added to Charleston County’s sales tax. But voters signaled their overwhelming approval for the sales tax with more than 63 percent of the voters agreeing to the school district’s proposal. It’s hard to say whether the approval was from a consensus that the district had managed the last capital program so well, or because many schools were included on the wish list, including downtown campuses that have been shuttered until the district can find the money for repairs.