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#SCStateHouse: Anemic GOP Turnout

“Republicans” see few precious voters in special election runoff …

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Columbia, South Carolina attorney Benjamin Dunn is the newly minted “Republican” nominee for S.C. Senate District 20 (map) – although you’re forgiven if you failed to take notice.

Dunn won the GOP nomination for this seat in a special runoff election on Tuesday that saw only around 3,000 voters show up to the polls.  That’s an anemic 4.53 percent turnout rate, for those of you keeping score at home.

Pitiful … even for a midsummer special election.

Of those who did bother to show up, Dunn received 1,748 votes (or roughly 57 percent of all ballots cast).  His GOP rival, pastor John Holler of Columbia, drew only 1,307 votes (or around 43 percent of all ballots cast).  Richland County vote totals were published belatedly thanks to the latest round of voting machine malfunctions to plague the county.

News of those malfunctions – which required dozens of voters to cast their ballots on paper – were first reported by FITSNews.com early yesterday morning.

“Republicans” are hoping they can retain a seat vacated in June by former state senator John Courson, the latest casualty of an ongoing investigation into corruption in state government.  Courson resigned his office on June 4 after pleading guilty to one count of misconduct related to questionable campaign finance transactions.  Prior to stepping down, he had held this heavily gerrymandered Senate seat since 1985.

As the GOP nominee, Dunn will go up against Democratic heavyweight Dick Harpootlian in the special election for this seat on November 6.

“Republicans” have whispered privately about spending up to $500,000 to keep this seat in their column – but it remains to be seen if they will actually devote that sort of cash to the race.  And if they do, Harpootlian – a former solicitor who has become one of the state’s most successful trial attorneys – can more than match them financially.

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If that is the case … will “Republicans” ante up? 

“That would be an unpopular investment – and an unwise investment in light of these results,” one GOP senator told us in the aftermath of Tuesday’s special election.

Such lack of enthusiasm from incumbent GOP senators is not surprising.

Every “Republican” senator must stand for reelection in 2020, and they have told us they would prefer to see their party’s caucus building its war chest over the next few months – not blowing through it.  Moreover, we have spoken confidentially with several GOP senators over the last few weeks who tell us that while they are officially supporting their party’s nominee – they privately hope Harpootlian wins the seat.

“Are you kidding?” one told us.  “He’s a going to tie (the Democratic) caucus in knots.  They don’t know how to handle Dick Harpootlian any better than we do.”

As we have previously noted, this Senate district very nearly went for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016, and if there is anything resembling a blue wave this November we believe Harpootlian is a virtual lock to win this seat.

We have also pointed out how his advantage should be further bolstered by the fact former S.C. minority leader James Smith – whose House seat is in the thick of this fight – is running at the top of the Democratic ticket statewide (or at least we think he is).  Democrats in Richland County turned out in droves for Smith in this June’s partisan primary elections, and we suspect they will flock to the polls for him again in November.

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