S.C. Democrats say they’ll retake state Senate; GOP says otherwise

Five seats

The nation’s current political volatility is leading to big dreams for South Carolina Democrats.

They’re viewing the mess in Washington plus recent urban voting trends plus voter frustration as the perfect ingredients for political change in the South Carolina Senate, which has been firmly in the grip of Republicans since the election of 2002.

Currently, the Senate has 27 Republicans and 19 Democrats. For Democrats to get outright control, they need to pick up five seats in 2020. For them to make the Republicans play nicer with them, they need a pickup of three seats.

“This may be one of the most expensive elections in South Carolina,” S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson told Statehouse Report. “We are looking at fighting in state Senate seats and trying to win in the state Senate in places that Democrats have not run in a very long time. It [the 2020 race] is going to be a tactical, strategic plan to take back the S.C. state Senate.”

Maybe. But the leader of the state Republican Party says no way, particularly in a state where the GOP controls all constitutional officers, the S.C. House, and the S.C. Senate. Furthermore in 2010, GOP incumbents controlled the legislative re-districting process, which means the way districts are now drawn favor them. Incumbents also have money and influence advantages.

“The Democrats have zero chance of taking back control of the S.C. Senate,” GOP state Chairman Drew McKissick said in a statement. “In fact, we expect to make even more Senate gains this cycle.

“With both President Trump and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham at the top of the ticket, we know that Republican enthusiasm and support will be running high, which will benefit all down ballot races across the state as well.”

Then he went on to slap at Democrats by criticizing them on “socialism, higher taxes, and open borders.” Just like it’s a reflex for Robertson to spank the GOP on health care, education, and guns.

So let’s dive deeper than political talking points and sound bites. Is there a path for Democrats to retake the state Senate?

On paper, the answer is yes. While most Republican incumbents have districts with 80 percent or more of voters being white, there are a few where non-white registered voters exceed 20 percent. In the 2020 election, it’s safe to bet that non-white voters upset by plantation politics and nationalism are going to be more inclined to vote than ever before, especially if there’s a minority Democrat at the top of or sharing the presidential ticket.

Furthermore in many of those GOP seats, there are significantly more registered women voters than men. At times, the gap is 10 percentage points. With polls showing a majority of Democrats and Republicans supporting abortion rights and more gun control — and with 2018 trends showing moderate Republican women in suburbs voting for Democrats — it’s likely women will be more energized to vote in 2020 too.

The state Democratic strategy to retake the Senate will clearly depend on galvanizing non-white voters, urban voters, and women who are frustrated with an increasingly vitriolic politics that puts narrow interests over the common good.

So yeah, on paper, it could work, particularly if Dems raise buckets of money.

But this academic exercise ignores pure politics. It doesn’t take into account longtime relationships in communities by GOP leaders, such as how Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) has delivered for the Pee Dee. It doesn’t envision non-partisan community pride of having a home-grown politician serve as a committee chair. It doesn’t foresee how Democrats may have tarred and feathered a vulnerable GOP senator, thus making him a hometown hero and bolstering his chances.

More than likely, the 2020 election will be another sea-change election. Democrats will make gains in the S.C. Senate, but probably not enough for outright control. But if they get just three additional seats, they’ll have more power to pick off two or three moderate Republicans who don’t agree with hard-liners on everything from redistricting and education to abortion and real background checks for gun sales.

One thing is for sure: 2020 will be a wild ride for anyone running for office. Hold on.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. Have a comment?
Send to: feedback@statehousereport.com

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