After popular Charleston politician Tim Scott clinched the GOP nomination for the 1st Congressional District, PBS host Gwen Ifill chose her words carefully. While noting the significance of Scott’s primary victory, Ifill noted that he “could” be the first African-American Republican in Congress since 2003.
Nearly every other outlet was more than happy to call this race four months early. Both The New York Times and Politico said Scott was “poised” to win in November. The Economist surprisingly went with a simple “likely.” At least The Daily Telegraph of London was kind enough to explain South Carolina’s political tarot cards, noting that the 1st District is “a safe Republican seat.”
These media outlets recognize the kind of voter anxiety that will doom the party in power, as well as the highly energized conservative base anxious to get to the polls in November.
And then there’s the viability of the other major party candidate, perennial Democratic nominee Ben Frasier. Hardly present on the campaign trail, he hasn’t inspired much confidence for a spirited campaign, and many in the party establishment are convinced the Maryland businessman doesn’t even live in the district.
It would seem that broader electoral frustrations — as well as specific concerns with the candidates for both the Democrats and Republicans — has opened the floodgates for several third-party campaigns.
“Neither party got what they wanted,” says Libertarian nominee Keith Blandford.
The latest entrant is Working Families Party candidate Rob Groce. Working Families has traditionally supported the Democratic candidate, offering a second line on the ballot to collect more votes, so Groce’s entrance is a recognizable break from business as usual and indicative of the fractured state of this campaign season.
Blandford and Groce are joined by the Green Party’s Robert Dobbs, Independence Party candidate Jimmy Wood, and United Citizens Party nominee M. E. McCullough.
In announcing his campaign, Groce argued his supporters “want an actual representative who will represent everyone. They know I’ll do the job with no partiality and without being subject to improper influence.”
Pulling enough support from the two major parties is a tough sell in any election year, but it’s slightly more palatable this year as Republicans struggle to capitalize on Democratic discontent.
While Groce tries to plant a flag in the middle, Blandford and Wood are also speaking to the issues important to Scott’s right-wing base: smaller government, less taxes, and a 180-degree turn on immigration and healthcare.
There are certainly differences between Libertarians and Republicans — for example, the third party is a frequent critic of GOP war hawks. But Blandford notes that the similarities are what have Republican rank and file voters giving his candidacy another look, with some supporting him under the radar.
“It’s a nice position to be in where they’re so confident,” he says of the Scott camp. “We can sneak in on this.”
Scott will sit down with the third-party challengers for an October debate. But in these dog days of summer, yard signs are back in the garage, and the 1st District race has fallen off the front page as the focus turns to more salacious fare like the statewide gubernatorial race.
It would be good to remember a lesson from Col. Robert Burton’s bid to win the Democratic nomination in June. Burton, who campaigned heavily to party activists, later learned on Primary Day that there was a large number of voters he’d yet to introduce himself to: the majority of them.
Come Nov. 2, writers from the New York Times, Politico, The Economist, and The Daily Telegraph won’t be the ones stepping into the voting booths in the 1st District.