SC Politics

Former Richard Quinn Understudy Wins Big In South Carolina

Jon Parker and his firm help shift the State House’s balance of power …

The 2020 election in South Carolina was the first presidential cycle in which the Republican consulting universe was not dominated by Richard Quinn – the former Godfather of the SCGOP.

Quinn and his empire were laid low by an influence peddling scandal that cost multiple state lawmakers their jobs – including his son, Rick Quinn.

The veteran strategist is still facing charges in connection with that inquiry, incidentally …

Of course the ProbeGate investigation – which had more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel – finished flatter than the cut-to-black ending of The Sopranos. The ending was even more disappointing considering many of the truly guilty parties got off scot free.

Leaving Quinn to take the fall …

While the Quinns have continued to dabble in select races – including the contentious GOP primary for S.C. Senate District 33 (.pdf) back in June – the collapse of their empire created a tremendous power vacuum in Palmetto politics that began to be filled on a patchwork basis during the 2018 election cycle.

This year, however, we began to see a more definitive new order taking shape as multiple up-and-coming strategists – including some who cut their teeth with the Quinns – moving boldly to assert themselves.

One of them? Jon Parker

Parker makes no bones about his time with the “Quinndom.”

(Click to view)

(Via: Facebook)

“Proud of it,” he told us.

Learning from the master appears to have had its benefits as Parker’s three-person shop – Innovative Communication Strategies – scored a pair of big upsets in the South Carolina Senate as part of this year’s sweeping “red storm.”

This news outlet has already written about the shocking defeat of veteran S.C. senator Vincent Sheheen by senator-elect Penry Gustafson in S.C. Senate District 27 (.pdf), but the Republican rout in the Palmetto State also saw businessman Billy Garrett trounce incumbent Democrat Floyd Nicholson in S.C. Senate District 10 (.pdf).

These wins are significant, potentially altering the ideological direction of the chamber by giving Republicans just enough votes to overcome Democratic-led filibusters.

Assuming they start acting like “Republicans …”

Which … has been an issue.

Anyway, Parker and his two partners – Sarah Jane Walker and Sean Wise – handled both of those S.C. Senate “flips.” In the process, they lived up to their firm’s moniker by developing “innovative communications strategies” for their clients. Among the most effective hits landed against Sheheen and Nicholson? Low-budget digital campaigns which criticized the two incumbents for accepting “in-district” spending from taxpayers as part of a “personal slush fund.”

“I’m sick of career politicians who profit from their offices,” one text message to a Kershaw county voter noted. “Ask Vincent Sheheen: Where did over $150,000 in district tax dollars go?”

That is very effective messaging …

“It was past time for some accountability on that money,” Walker told us.

Prior to coming to South Carolina, Walker ran races in Texas. Meanwhile, Wise has worked campaigns from Colorado to Louisiana – and was briefly a consultant in the Quinn shop (including a stint on the 2010 campaign of liberal Columbia, S.C. mayor Steve Benjamin).

Obviously the “red storm” made a lot of Republican consultants look like geniuses in 2020, but it is worth noting Gustafson’s upset win over Sheheen came as another vulnerable Democrat – Nikki Setzler – emerged victorious in his bid for a twelfth four-year term representing S.C. Senate District 26 (.pdf).

U.S. president Donald Trump carried Setzler’s district with 52.9 percent of the vote in 2016 – yet the career politician prevailed by nearly a 10 percentage point margin, drawing 54.42 percent of the vote.

Setzler had a far more liberal voting record than Sheheen – and his GOP opponent, staunch social conservative Chris Smith, received more support than Gustafson from the Republican establishment in his bid to knock him off.

Stay tuned for more stories in the coming days as we look at the various winners (and losers) from the 2020 election cycle in South Carolina.




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