Too often in South Carolina, intellectually incurious voters base decisions at the polls on where a candidate is from … not where they stand on the issues.
Along with partisan identification – which has been rendered meaningless by the rampant fiscal liberalism of so many “Republican” politicians in the Palmetto State – geographic identity is one of the first things voters notice about a would-be officeholder.
If so-and-so is a “Republican” from a particular part of the state, voters automatically assume they subscribe to a certain belief system – especially when the candidate in question takes fistfuls of special interest cash to bombard them with messages touting their “conservatism.”
Unfortunately, the results at the S.C. State House are anything but “conservative.” Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., fiscally liberal “Republicans” like Lindsey Graham, Tom Rice and Joe Wilson are the new dominant voices in a delegation once known for its loyalty to the limited government.
That’s a shame …
Anyway, the point of this article isn’t to wax indignant at Columbia or Washington (that’s every other post on this news site), the point is to examine the geographic implications of the upcoming fourth congressional district (map) election.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past forty-eight hours, you know U.S. congressman Trey Gowdy shocked the Palmetto political world by announcing his intention not to seek a fifth term in Washington.
A huge field is coalescing as the race to replace Gowdy takes shape, and before we begin our geographic breakdown we would be remiss not to commend the name Miles Terry to your attention. According to our sources, the Greenville, S.C.-based “attorney, real estate broker, and entrepreneur” is actively contemplating a bid for this seat.
So add his name to the list of prospective candidates …
Like other Greenville-based candidates, Terry could face a decided advantage in the event this crowded field narrows to a two-person runoff.
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In South Carolina partisan primaries, if no candidate receives a majority of votes in the initial round of balloting a runoff election is held two weeks thereafter.
Given the number of “Republican” candidates already eyeing this seat – and the lack of an overwhelming early frontrunner – our guess is a GOP runoff election is highly likely. Almost inevitable.
This is where geography matters …
As we’ve noted in our prior coverage, the fourth district is “a bastion of establishment conservatism in the Upstate region of the Palmetto State” – encompassing staunchly GOP Greenville and Spartanburg counties. According to the Cook Political Report’s latest Partisan Voting Index (PVI), the seat has a plus-15 percent “Republican” lean – making it the second-safest GOP district in the state.
In other words, politicians with the Democratic label affixed to their name need not apply …
A host of GOP candidates from Greenville has already either announced or expressed interest in this seat. Assuming a credible candidate emerges from Spartanburg (like Hope Blackley, below), there’s a very good chance they will wind up facing off against the surviving Greenville candidate.
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At that point the election would be decided by the following question: Does Greenville unite around its hometown finalist?
If so, then than finalist will become the next United States congressman from South Carolina. No doubt about it.
In fact, divisions within the Greenville electorate would have to be deep and abiding if a “Republican” candidate from Spartanburg were to have a shot at winning this seat (more on that in a moment).
On what do we base these conclusions? Numbers …
For starters, Greenville has a huge population advantage over Spartanburg. According to the latest data from the U.S. Census, 498,766 people call Greenville County home compared to 301,463 people who reside in Spartanburg. Among registered voters, Greenville leads the state with a whopping 328,743 people on its rolls – more than the entire population of Spartanburg.
Spartanburg, by contrast, currently has 186,736 registered voters, according to the latest data from the S.C. Election Commission (SCVotes.org).
Greenville also turns out its “Republicans.” During the 2016 “First in the South” presidential primary, 93,474 Greenville County residents cast ballots, according to SCVotes.org data. By contrast, 46,746 Spartanburg County residents voted in that election.
Bottom line? The math heavily favors a consensus candidate from Greenville … assuming one emerges.
Which brings us to an interesting story line to keep an eye on as this race unfolds …
As we noted in our original coverage of this presently amorphous field of prospective candidates, two of the credible aspirants who have already signaled their intention to run – State Senator William Timmons and Upstate radio host Josh Kimbrell – hate each other and are destined to be bitter rivals.
How come? Um, this …
Still, as much as Timmons, Kimbrell and the other candidates might wish to rip each other’s faces off (GOP primaries in the Palmetto State tend to be bloody affairs), they would be wise to remember that uniting the Greenville vote behind them in the second round of voting will be critical to their success.
A harshly personal race could suppress turnout – which tends to fall off precipitously in a runoff election, anyway.
Does this mean we should expect a less caustic, more issues-based discourse as the battle for Gowdy’s seat heats up? We doubt it … but there is definitely a powerful incentive for the Greenville candidates to moderate their vitriol against one another.
Stay tuned … this is going to be a fascinating race to follow!
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