Basically in an effort to educate myself on the upcoming elections in my home state, the following is a break down of what I consider the competitive races in the Palmetto state. If anyone else gets anything out of this, just keep in mind all I am offering is amateur observations from a lifelong follower of Palmetto politics, as a former voting observer and low-level volunteer on over 10 SC campaigns.

I am going to use that term, “competitive” loosely, because by any rough estimation this should be a quiet year in SC electoral politics. For the first time since 1994, the year of a near Republican sweep, there will be no US Senate election in this off-year election. As a result, the vast amount of public attention will not focus on the various campaigns to after Labor Day, as there are few primaries to really watch for. But the movements to offer candidates and established platforms have been underway on the party level and fundraising schedule for over a year.

First the upfront overview from where I see things at the moment. Due to cultural and political forces, I am expecting slight GOP gains across the board, but nothing major for several reasons: 1. The Democratic Party is nearly broke and has no real coherent objective for being the majority party at the moment, and 2. the Republican majority is still a coalition group which is suffering from its own infighting and has not implemented cooperative strategies even within the party to address the state’s education and business issues.

The races below are listed in a way to categorize how competitive a race may be. It is my subjective reasoning alone.

Competitive race #1 – Governor
Mark Sanford – incumbent, libertarian/conservative, alieanated many of the party’s faithful, especially in the GOP rich Upstate, and in the legislature by choosing many “hills to die on” and generally being unable to point to any accomplishments he has sheperded through, should win his primary with at least 80% of the vote, and may get get over 55% of the general election vote if he can make peace inroads in the Upstate, his $4 million campaign war chest is more than all the other state wide officers combined, and presents a challenge that no one will really overcome
Oscar Lovelace, MD – political neophyte, former Sanford supporter and now disillusioned to the point of mounting a challenger, much more public school friendly, think of him as playing the role that Pat Buchannan played in the 1992 GOP Presidential primary, in other words, has no real chance to win, but his and his follower’s concerns need to be seriously addressed
Democratic challengers
Tommy Moore , State Senator from Aiken – a small businesman, and very much unlike the corporate attorney Jim Hodges that unseated GOP Governor Beasley in 1998, Moore is at the moment the strongest Democrat candidate. Unfortutanetly for Moore, his campaign has attracted little notice beyond the party regulars. His campaign at the moment is basically anti-Sanford, and there just is not enough Sanford dislike among the populace to fund a campaign and get noticed enough to turn the Governor out. He can be a formidable debate opponent and will probably win the Democratic primary with 60%+ of the vote, but will just have a problem getting any traction.

Frank Willis, mayor of Florence – another small business, blessedly not a a lawyer among the Governor-aspire’s, Willis is essentially running on a strengthening of public education, bringing jobs to depressed areas of the state and a reevaluation of the health care system platform. His campaign is garnering even less traction than Moore’s. While in all regards a genuinely pleasant man, his campaign will run against the connections that Moore has built in the legislature and around the state.
Competitive race #2 – 5th district Congressional race
John Spratt(D) – incumbent – this Rep. seat has long been targeted as the last seat competitive seat in the gerrymandered SC congressional districts. It is almost as if the thinking is that if the GOP can win this seat from perennial winner, and powerful, York County resident Spratt, they will have taken this seat for good, as was the thinking when Lindsey Graham won the 3rd district when Butler Derrick retired in ’92. Spratt is most popular in the rural counties beyond his Charlotte, NC suburb home county. With Fritz Hollings gone, he is the state’s last “yellow-dog” Democrat. His challenger…

State Rep. Ralph Norman from Rock Hill, SC – has already insured that Spratt will face his most difficult challenge yet, especially from a fund-raising standpoint. Though, Norman has largely spent his cash in attempts to gain recognition across the district. He is running on a traditional social and fiscal Republican platform. At the moment, I’ll say that Spratt will narrowly win, and will force the Democratic party to spend precious resources to defend the seat, though this could change as the year progresses.
Competitive race #3 – Education Superintendent

In a show of just how weak the state Dem. party has gotten, the 2nd most important constitutional office, and traditional Dem. stronghold in the Education department is not really being challenged at all by the Democrats with the retirement of Superintendent Inez Tennenbaum. The front runner, former Spartanburg prosecutor, Karen Floyd, is a vocal supporter of school choice, outside management consulting and stricter discipline standards in the public schools. She would complement Gov. Sanford’s school choice plan effectively. She has the support of the GOP establishment, in a state where that matters. Unless for some reason, Tennenbaum is convinced to reenter the race, this office will be determined with the GOP primary in June. Her greatest challenger in the GOP primary is former Colonial Insurance CEO, Bob Staton. Staton is running a campaign that largely hopes to restructure the Department of Education to remove duplication of effort and to have rigorous attempts at accountability. Kerry Wood is also running, though I expect a primary runoff between Floyd and Staton and a much-needed debate about just how far SC wants to go with school choice.

Competitive race #4 – State Treasurer

The State Treasurer should be the last office the GOP needs to capture to have a complete state-wide sweep. Incumbent Dem. Grady Patterson , if he runs again, will face after a probable runoff either State Sen. Grey Ryberg, businessman Jeff Willis, and former State House majority leader Rick Quinn. All three GOP candidates want to regain state credit ratings and work closely with Governor Sanfod. At this point, I’ll give the nod to Sen. Ryberg to win the GOP primary and to pick up the office in November, giving the GOP control over all state constitutional offices.
Competitive race #5 – Lieutenant Governor

It would should be the state’s most entertaining race, in the taste’s great, less filling category, incumbent Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer will face off in a primary against the son of late Gov. Campbell, Mike Campbell and one will face Dem Robert Barber in November. Bauer has upset many in the rank and file of the GOP with what many perceive as a flippant approach to the office. The office has very limited powers and even is rarely a stepping stone to the Governor’s office, even considering that the GOP field for Governor will be open in 2010. If there is potential for mud-slinging this campaign season, this is the GOP primary is the place to notice, if anyone in the public does. Both Campbell and Bauer will argue why their approach to the office’s limited powers is the best. For the GOP voter, the question is who can best serve as Governor in the death of the incumbent. I am calling the primary a tossup at the moment. Former minister and Charleston restauranteer Barber, is actually running a positive campaign, but will probably be swept away in a GOP tide in November.

None of the other 5 US Congressional seats should be at all competitive. At present, Congressman Bob Inglis has no declared opposition and Congressman Henry Brown only has a write-in challenger. Congressmen Joe Wilson, Jim Clyburn, Gresham Barrett are facing token opposition.

Attorney General McMaster has no opposition at the moment, neither does Comptroller Richard Eckstrom. Police investigator Larry Flynn is running a GOP primary campaign against incumbet Secretary of State Mark Hammond. I predict Hammond will probably win due to a lack of an urge to change an incumbent in this little-noticed office.

Read more about the Democratic Party’s lack of candiates here.

Politically, the important issues going on the state will involve the reform of the property tax system, lowering the state’s unemployment rate and insuring effectiveness in the state’s education system, while maintainting a balanced budget in the face of increasing pressure from entitlements like Medicare. Perhaps only property tax reform will gain a large section of the public’s imagination this November, maybe school reform.

It is just about a complete Republican state now. The quesiton is just how effectively can the GOP manage the wheel of government, stay true to its principles and sort out internal debate among its members.