One of the biggest problems with the conservative movement in South Carolina – and across the country – has been finding good candidates to run for office. This was especially true at the national level during the 2022 election cycle, as former U.S. president Donald Trump‘s support for several less-than-electable Republicans was widely viewed as a reason for the “red ripple.”
Ripple … as opposed to the “red wave” many thought would wash over the U.S. Congress and decisively flip the balance of power in Washington, D.C. against the administration of Joe Biden.
Sadly, there was a flip side to that coin. Most of the “Republican” candidates running against the so-called Trump slate were, well, Nikki Haley-type politicians. Electable … but not much else. Eminently malleable (and special/ self-interested) … but not so principled.
So … what’s a conservative voter to do?
Good question …
In South Carolina, good candidates are going to be at a premium in the coming months. That’s because an all-out war is underway – and poised to escalate – between the fiscally/ socially liberal “Republican” establishment in Columbia and the S.C. Freedom Caucus, a conservative group which is endeavoring to move the GOP supermajority more to the right.
Or to hear its members tell it, more in keeping with the GOP platform and the promises “Republican” candidates make on the campaign trail.
Last February, my media outlet ran a story about April Cromer – who challenged powerful former ways and means chairman Brian White for his seat in the S.C. House of Representatives in 2022. A mother and local businesswoman, Cromer brought serious fiscal conservative bona fides to the table – but she was a reluctant candidate, needing to be convinced to run by conservative activists.
“I’m a behind the scenes type person,” Cromer told me at the time. “I’m a worker. And I can be too outspoken.”
Those activists prevailed, though … and Cromer not only ran, she handily defeated White in the GOP primary election (one of several conservative upsets over status quo incumbents).
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Since taking office, Cromer has emerged as one of the most consistent, principled members of the Freedom Caucus.
“She’s the conscience of our group,” one of her colleagues told me this week.
Cromer could soon have some company in the S.C. House as another upstate conservative – Brandy Tarleton – announced her candidacy for the chamber this week. Tarleton, 37, of Oconee County was “born and raised” in the Upstate and proudly proclaims on her website that she came into the world as a “result of an unwed teen pregnancy.”
Needless to say, she is staunchly pro-life – meaning she brings an incredibly personal perspective to what is expected to be a dominant issue in the upcoming legislative session (on multiple fronts).
“I’m a conservative, and I don’t plan on hiding that fact from anyone,” Tarleton said in announcing her bid for S.C. House District 5. “I want to restore freedom, hope, and opportunity to the people of my district and to the rest of the state. I’m going to do my best throughout this campaign to speak to you from my heart. I think that is what’s missing from a lot of the communication we get from our politicians. The whole point of this campaign is that I’m one of you. I share your frustrations with the way things are going in our state and in our country.”
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Tarleton – who grew up in a farming community outside of Westminster, S.C. – said she is running against the “cronyism, the corruption, and the cowardice in Columbia.”
“South Carolina is a red state with an overwhelming Republican majority in the legislature – and yet, we are ranked as having the most liberal government of any red state in the country,” she wrote. “That just has to change. And that’s why I decided to run.”
Is she correct? Absolutely. Unequivocally. As we have previously reported, the ruling GOP supermajority has been ranked as the most liberal “Republican-controlled” legislature in the nation for three years running.
With unsurprisingly unfortunate outcomes …
Tarleton’s opponent? One of the more left-of-center GOP lawmakers in the entire S.C. General Assembly, Neal Collins.
As I noted in a recent post, Collins is one of the top targets of the Freedom Caucus in the upcoming election – and with good reason. He is likely among the most vulnerable establishment incumbents this coming spring given his left-leaning record and the right-leaning demographics of his district.
And like White in 2022, he is now facing off against an attractive, articulate candidate with strong grassroots conservative backing and a compelling personal narrative.
Which means he is facing a serious threat … in the event he even decides to run again.
South Carolina’s GOP majorities (now supermajorities) have failed for decades to advance conservative policies like tax relief for small businesses and individual income earners, spending limits, universal parental choice, judicial reform, ethics reform, infrastructure prioritization and other key agenda items. Why? Because left-of-center “Republicans” have aligned with Democrats to create a status quo governing majority which steadfastly resists such long-overdue changes.
What will ultimately break this logjam? More good candidates like Cromer and Tarleton who are committed to challenging – and defeating – incumbents who continue to be part of the problem in Columbia.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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