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2018 S.C. Governor’s Race: Democratic Uncertainty

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MINORITY PARTY’S GUBERNATORIAL PRIMARY IN FLUX …

Does it matter who the Democratic nominee for governor of South Carolina is in 2018?  No … not at all.

As we noted earlier today, Democrats are the perpetual minority in Palmetto politics – holding “precisely zero statewide offices, neither of the Palmetto State’s seats in the U.S. Senate and just one of seven seats in the U.S. House.”

Democrats are also the overwhelming minority in both chambers of the S.C. General Assembly – occupying a meager 61 out of 170 legislative seats as of this writing.

Pretty weak, right?  Indeed … although as we’ve previously noted there is literally no difference between the two parties ideologically.  None.

While Democrats lack numbers, their leaders comprise part of a left-leaning “governing majority” within the state’s all-powerful legislative branch of government (which just so happens to be led by a “former” Democrat, Hugh Leatherman).

So there’s that …

But when it comes to competing for statewide offices, Democrats are nowhere.  Totally unelectable.

Which is why we say again: It doesn’t matter who Democrats nominate for governor in 2018.

Sure, S.C. Senator Vincent Sheheen was surprisingly competitive against scandal-scarred Nikki Haley during the 2010 election, but he totally blew it in his rematch with Haley four years later.  And the state appears to have shaded itself an even deeper shade of “red” since then.

No wonder fiscal liberals seeking to run at the statewide level have decided to identify as “Republicans” – or simply switch parties – in order to have a chance to win.

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Still, there will be a 2018 gubernatorial election.  And Democrats will field a candidate.  And who knows … lighting may strike the way it did back in 1998, when former governor Jim Hodges seized upon a bizarre confluence of circumstances to defeat “Republican” David Beasley, another “ex-” Democrat.

For the better part of the past year, conventional political wisdom has held that the Democrats would nominate S.C. Rep. James Smith – a war hero who previously served as the party’s minority leader in the S.C. House.

That calculus has been upended, though, by the recent indictment of fiscally liberal “Republican” S.C. Senator John Courson.

The 72-year-old lawmaker is accused of routing nearly a quarter of a million dollars through his campaign account to a company run by his political consultant, neo-Confederate “Republican” Richard Quinn.  Roughly half of that money was then allegedly funneled back to Courson via “multiple transactions” totaling more than $130,000.

Courson has vigorously protested his innocence – but the indictments against him are damning.  As a result, most believe it’s only a matter of time before he steps down from his seat, triggering a special election to replace him.

Courson has represented S.C. Senate District 20 (map) since 1985.   Were he to step down, Smith would be the Democrats’ dream candidate to try and flip this “centrist” seat.  Certainly he’d have a far greater chance of being elected there in a special election than being elected governor next fall in a statewide race.

Asked about his plans Smith demurred, telling us he had yet to reach any determinations regarding what his political future might hold.

Who would Democrats get to run for governor in the event he took a pass?  Good question.

Party leaders have reportedly sought out third-term S.C. Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell – whom they previously lobbied (unsuccessfully) to jump into a special election for the fifth congressional district this spring.

Will Norrell take the bait this time?

We shall see …

Intelligent, articulate and extremely attractive, the small town bankruptcy lawyer would represent a dramatic departure from prior Democratic candidates – and could possibly pick up a big chunk of the libertarian vote given her support for medical marijuana legalization.

Still, she would be facing what amounted to a suicide mission – which is a tough sell for an established state lawmaker.

Whoever the Democrats decide to run, they will never win at the statewide level – for any office – until they begin recognizing and exploiting the deep divisions within the state’s “Republican” establishment.

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