South Carolina's Republican Party was on the road to complete dominance of the political scene in South Carolina a few years ago. The tactics of Carroll Campbell created a party that brought together people who agreed most of the time. The Campbell approach ignored the views on this or that issue of a Republican member of the General Assembly in order to make sure a member was present who would agree most of the time. The model shifted South Carolina politics from a dominant Democratic state to a solid Republican state.
Enter Mark Sanford and his cronies in 2002. From the start, Governor Sanford and his cronies applied litmus tests to Republican candidates to determine if the candidates were really "true Republicans" or a "RINO" or "Republican in name only." The litmus test most prominent is whether or not a Republican embraced the tuition tax credit scheme for private schools endorsed by the Governor and his benefactor, New York billionaire Howard Rich. It is understandable that Sanford and his have to dance to the tune that that their benefactor plays. However, it is creating a mess.
First, by going all out to take out fellow Republicans in the primaries and ignore them in the general election if they do not pass the litmus test, Sanford and his created a poisonous atmosphere in the General Assembly in which even the good ideas of the Governor can not prevail. Simply put, if graded on accomplishments instead of rhetoric, the Sanford tenure is a complete failure.
Sanford's acts also created some tough races for Republican incumbents where there should not be one. Take for example the closer than expected race the GOP faces in House District 6 in Anderson County. Don Bowen, the Republican candidate, is hook, line and sinker for the Sanford agenda. Bowen upset former Rep. Becky Martin in the 2006 primary, and faced no opposition that fall worth noting. This year, however, Bowen faces Tom Dobbins, who is making his candidacy more relevant than it should be in the district by calling for public education reform and attacking the private school tuition plan. In other words, it is the Governor's litmus test that is making what should be a non-race a race.
Such things are happening all around the state. While I do not believe that the Democrats will take over the General Assembly, they can make some inroads that would otherwise be unavailable due to the Governor's litmus test and his cronies' behavior.
There are a number of "Republican" districts in the General Assembly that are not as solid as they seem. In those districts, people are for tax cuts, gun rights, and against gay marriage and for public education. Those seats have often been held by a respected community member who is socially conservative. Rarely were there any openings for the Democrats to attack. That has changed.
With the Governor and his so hellbent on their litmus tests, the Republicans are left with candidates in those districts who are open to attack on education or who do not have the support of the Governor. Often the latter gets sniping from the Governor's pet bloggers.
It is crystal clear that Governor Sanford and his cronies do not buy into the late Lee Atwater's "big tent" approach to the Republican Party. Sanford and his want true believers on all issues. That's their right. However, perhaps Sanford and his cronies should note that the modern day Libertarians and the Whigs of the mid 1800s had the same approach.