Most South Carolinians are pleased that Mark Sanford cannot seek reelection for governor. The Republicans and Democrats seeking to run for governor must emerge with proven leadership, bold ideas, vigor, and, yes, money if they want to win their party’s nomination and thus the general election. Speaking as a proud Democrat, I am hopeful that we will produce a competitive and diverse slate of candidates for each of the state’s constitutional offices in next year’s primary and general election.

I would be more optimistic if we Democrats had a bench to go to. So often in our party, we do not place people in positions of influence, power, and visibility early in their careers, so when election season comes around, we would have the ability to raise money and have some level of name recognition. Instead, we go with who the mainstream knows, who people are comfortable with, or those who have been around for decades. This has done more to hinder the process then produce more effective leaders and better public servants.

Republicans Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and Rep. Tim Scott are prime examples of a strong bench. Both men have had good support from their party and strong inner-circle supporters. It is clear that 15 years ago, their mentors helped chart the course they are on. This has led to their success, and I’m sure more of that will continue.

While this exists to some degree in the Democratic Party — more so in certain regions of the state — no coordinated effort seems to exist to produce a strong, competitive, and vibrant bench. Candidate recruitment must be ongoing and not only when an election is near.

Charleston attorney Mullins McLeod, state Sen. Robert Ford, and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen have announced their intentions to run for governor. House Minority Leader Harry Ott and state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex have been mentioned as possible candidates. While it is too early to tell who might win the primary, I hope each are working the phones to raise money and are securing supporters. I also hope that they assemble a solid volunteer force that is ready to work like never before.

Having committed candidates run for the U.S. Senate, Congress, statewide office, and local offices are needed if Charleston is to stay blue and S.C. to become blue again. Too often candidates run once, lose, disengage, and never run again. If Democrats are to build a bench, more committed candidates are needed and the “up and coming” must be given a consistent chance. If we lose hope in this effort, we have already lost the election.

Democrats cannot let this opportunity pass by; 2010 presents Democrats and South Carolina with a great opportunity to elect people who are open-minded, visionary, and determined to move our state where it ought to be in education, innovation, job creation, accountability, law enforcement, employment, and home ownership. Not only do we need a governor and General Assembly to work towards this, we need a lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, comptroller general, superintendent of education, commissioner of agriculture, and adjutant general to make our state work for everyone rather than the chosen few.

The upcoming election cycle cannot be about reform; it must be about transformation. Democrats must produce great candidates from the governor’s race to County Council, from the U.S. Senate and Congressional seats to the General Assembly, city halls, and school boards in order for living wages to be created and sustained, children to be educated, seniors not to suffer in silence, and communities not to be taken over by violent crimes and drug activities.

If Democrats have the same type of candidates and mentality as before, we will get the same results come November: defeat. The 2010 election cycle will shape the Democratic Party’s agenda and candidate pool for the foreseeable future. Republicans will have a solid lineup for next year.

Will Democrats be able to overcome their candidates by having a positive vision and a clear message that will put us in better standing? Whose bench will be victorious?