In anticipation of a likely rematch between Nikki Haley and Vincent Sheheen, the Democratic Governors Association, a heavy-hitting national group that brings in the artillery to state races, is cranking up a war machine in South Carolina.
That’s how DGA spokesman Danny Kanner tells it, anyway. A native New Yorker who lives and works in Washington, D.C., Kanner flew down to the Palmetto State this week to meet with Sheehen, Democratic party officials, and members of the media. His message: the DGA is making Haley a top target and supporting Sheheen’s candidacy a priority in 2014. In fact, the group is already on the ground working behind the scenes, he says.
"We only focus on states where we can win," Kanner says. "We think he has a good chance."
Kanner’s visit South comes less than a week after Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who chairs the DGA, ticked off a list of six Republican governors the group planned to target in 2014. Haley’s name wasn’t on it. Immediately, Kanner told Palmetto State media that Sheheen’s race would be a “top priority” for the DGA. While Haley’s campaign has pegged Kanner’s recent visit as an attempt at damage control, Kanner says the trip had been planned for a while.
In 2010, Sheheen narrowly lost to Haley by four percentage points in a wave election year for Republican candidates who rose to power on the winds of the Tea Party movement. During that campaign the DGA chose not to make a major play in support of Sheheen. In contrast, the Republican Governors Association spent heavily on Haley’s behalf, pounding Sheheen in TV ads. At the time, some S.C. Democrats, most notably Dick Harpootlian, a two-time chairman of the party, blasted national Democratic organizations like the DGA for sitting on their hands.
Kanner punted when asked if he thought the DGA should have come through in a bigger way in 2010. The DGA, he said, is focusing on 2014 and already offering staff, research and communications and help. He declined to say what kind of money the group might throw at the race because they don’t want to show their hand to the Republicans.
Asked if he thought Sheheen’s renewed support for South Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban is out of step with national Democrats, Kanner said his group doesn’t’ have ideological litmus tests.
“In the Democratic governors we have pro-life, pro-choice, pro-marriage, anti-marriage, pro-gun, anti-gun,” he says. “I think Vincent’s in line with the people of South Carolina, broadly speaking, and we wouldn’t win this race with a standard down-the-line liberal [campaign].”
He added that 2014 “is not going to be some big ideological fight,” but would rather be a referendum on Haley’s first term as governor. “By any measure she’s been an absolute failure,” he said, citing the hacking scandal, an outbreak of tuberculosis at a school in Greenwood, and Haley’s checkered past on ethics issues.
“She can’t get to the issues people care about: jobs, schools, infrastructure, because she’s got this mess surrounding her,” Kanner said. “She’s just not effective at doing the job.”
Despite South Carolina’s conservative electoral makeup, that all nine statewide office holders are Republican, and only one out of 10 members of Congress from South Carolina is a Democrat, Kanner called the governor’s office a position Sheheen could win particularly because he’s a strong candidate who has proven that he can run a competitive race against Haley.