By James G. Wiles || One year from today, November 6, 2012, voters in Horry and seven other South Carolina counties will go to the polls to elect a President, a Vice President and, for the first time since 1992, their own Congressman.
The boundaries of the new South Carolina seventh congressional district were approved by the U.S. Department of Justice on October 28th.
The new district occupies the area which once largely made up the old SC-6: Georgetown, Horry, Marion, Dillon, Florence (except for the area around Lake City and Olanta), Darlington, Marlboro and Chesterfield Counties. Total population? According to the 2010 Census: 673,993. Total registered voters? 392,023.
Designed by the South Carolina General Assembly in Columbia, SC-7 was carved out of three existing congressional districts: SC-1 (Tim Scott – R), three counties; SC-6 (James Clyburn – D), three counties; and SC-5 (Mick Mulvaney – R), five counties. The counties don’t add up to eight because Florence and Marion County were each split up between two different districts.
Between now and 2012 Election Day, several hurdles must be surmounted. Not least of which will be the GOP and Democratic presidential primaries, as well as the Congressional primaries and run-offs, assuming there are any.
And there will be debates too. Lots of debates, starting with the GOP presidential primary debate in Myrtle Beach on January 16, 2012 – a week before the GOP’s “First in the South” Presidential primary in South Carolina.
It makes sense, therefore, to dispel several items of conventional wisdom about SC-7, so that the district – and its needs – can be seen plain.
First, its nickname. When SC-7 was being promoted for northeastern South Carolina (over a competing map centered on Beaufort County), passionate advocates called it the “Pee Dee District.” This is a misnomer.
Take a look at the map (above).
While the Pee Dee River runs through the heart of the district, from Georgetown to Cheraw, only five of SC-7’s counties are in the Pee Dee Country, as defined by the Pee Dee Tourism Commission. Lee and Williamsburg Counties are not in SC-7 at all. And about 50 percent of SC-7’s population is concentrated in Horry and Georgetown, SC-7’s two Lowcountry counties.
Chesterfield, the western-most county, is actually part of the Midlands. Home to the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge ,a historic district and the Cheraw Jazz Festival (Dizzy Gillespie was born here), it’s a place of rolling hills, rock outcroppings, sandy soil and piney woods. Cheraw, the highest point of navigation on the Great Pee Dee, is on the fall line.
So, contrary to myth, SC-7 is actually topographically representative of most of South Carolina.
Second, it’s representative of South Carolina in the economic sense, too. SC-7 contains several steel mills: in Florence, Darlington and Georgetown. Georgetown is also one of South Carolina’s two ports. SC-7 contains – betcha didn’t know this – a nuclear power plant, again in Hartsville.
Darlington County is also the headquarters of Sonoco, a Fortune 500 company. Numerous light and heavy industry cluster in Darlington County, in contrast to the Lowcountry, whose economy is – except for the City of Georgetown, which is also industrial – tourism-based.
That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: with South Carolina having the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country (11 percent), SC-7 has three of the ten counties with the highest rates of unemployment state-wide. Chesterfield County, with 14.2 percent unemployment, is not much better.
In fact, it’s not just unemployment. SC-7 has eye-popping levels of poverty and illiteracy. Here are the overall stats for those four counties, contrasted with Horry:
September, 2011 2009 2003 2010
Unemployment All-Age Poverty Illiteracy Median Income
HORRY 10.5% 15.6% 12% $ 41,163
Marion 19.8% 27.4% 25% $ 28,437
Marlboro 19.0% 18.4% 24% $ 26,598
Dillon 15.9% 29.4% 24% $ 28,653
Chesterfield 14.2% 23.6% 20% $ 32,267
Plainly, the disappearance of the cotton- and tobacco-based agricultural economy over the last 40 years has taken a great toll.
Third, as the above economic review suggests, SC-7 is not homogenous. It’s diverse. And that gets us to another myth. Two counties, Marion and Marlboro, have African American majorities. The racial breakdown of all eight counties is as follows:
Percentage African American No. of African American Voters
Chesterfield 32% 8,203
Darlington 41% 17,206
Dillon 45% 9,648
Florence 39% 32,868
Georgetown 38% 13,122
HORRY 15% 22,038
Marion 51% 12,301
Marlboro 56% 9,199
TOTALS – SC-7 32% 123,785
What this means is that – again, contrary to the conventional wisdom – the new SC-7 is not an automatically Republican Congressional district. Before 1992 (the last time there was a district shaped similar to the new SC-7), the old SC-6 was actually a reliably Democratic District. Republicans only won it twice; and promptly lost it back to the Democrats after a single term.
Obviously, a lot’s changed in the last twenty years. Yet, if SC-7 had existed in 2008 and the popular vote had broken the same way, the Democratic Congressional candidate would have won. Here are, again by way of contrast, the Congressional vote totals for the eight counties comprising SC-7 in 2008 and 2010.
Democratic Vote Republican Vote
2008 147,214 120,597
2010 66,674 106,687
Remember: this is a hypothetical match-up because actually there were three separate Congressional races in these eight counties.
And 2010 was, of course, a Republican year. It was also not a presidential year. These totals reflect that.
The GOP challenger – Tea Partier, businessman and lawyer Mick Mulvaney of Fort Mill – defeated 14-term Democratic incumbent John Spratt to take SC-5, including what are the five western counties of the new SC-7. Yet, Spratt actually carried three of those counties. Marion County also went for the Democratic congressional candidate.
It’s also apparent, from other data, that much of the difference between the Democratic vote in 2008 and 2010 was the absence of heavy African American turnout.
Of course, next year, President Barack Obama will be at the top of the Democratic ticket. Yet, it should be pointed out that the Democratic vote in SC-7 is not coterminous with the African-American vote either. Take a look at those totals again and compare them to the African American voter registration given earlier.
That’s the last electoral myth which needs to be dispelled: there is a substantial white Democratic vote in SC-7, especially in Horry, Georgetown and, to a lesser extent, Chesterfield and Florence Counties. The vote totals prove it.
In short, between the GOP Presidential debate and presidential primary in January, 2012, the Congressional race for the new SC-7 culminating in the June 12, 2012 primary and the November 6, 2012 general election, Horry County voters are about to have ringside seats for a rockin’-good time in American politics. The SC-7 race is sure to attract national political attention, too – as well as big, money from both political parties, national campaign committees, PAC’s and other donors.
America’s political and media world is about to come to Myrtle Beach. Instead of the usual dull, winter off-season, we can expect to have a blast.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: James G. Wiles is a resident of Myrtle Beach, S.C. and regular contributor to The American Thinker, a national conservative website. An edited version of his column appeared in The (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) Sun News on November 6.