Monday, November 10, 2008
Looking at the 2010 Governor's Race
I know we just finished a round of elections, but the days after an election are usually when the people running the next election begin to reach out and test the political waters. Early in 2009, the political contenders and pretenders will start their campaigns. Over the next few weeks, VUI will take a look at the higher profile races and the rumors and moves being made.
The Governor’s race will be a hotly contested one. Democrats will be emboldened by the victory of Barack Obama and the potential for fundraising the President-elect and Vice-President-elect can do for statewide candidates. I think the Democrats would best be served it they took the approach that they did in 1998, and agree on a candidate in advance and back him fully. That elected Jim Hodges. However, that might not be possible in 2010, as there are three big players involved, (assuming Inez Tennenbaum goes to serve the Obama Administration.)
The first of the Democratic contenders is Vincent Sheheen, state senator from Kershaw County. I went to law school with Sheheen. I remember him as the smartest man in the room and a guy who you would not mind having a beer with or cooking out with. Since law school, Sheheen has built an impressive resume of service. Further, Sheheen comes from a family with long political ties in South Carolina politics. In sum, Senator Sheheen is, to me the most dangerous candidate to Republicans out there. He is young and experienced, and has an approach that is disarming. Sheheen will be far smarter than his handlers and probably smarter than his opponents. Don’t underestimate this guy.
Another contender with a disarming approach and good resume, including service in Iraq, is Rep. James Smith of Richland County. Like Sheheen, Smith has characteristics that might serve him well if the public suffers from Sanford fatigue after the Governor’s constant clashes with the General Assembly.
The one possible contender that the Republican Party should embrace is Jim Rex. That is nothing personal against Mr. Rex, but since his close election to the post of Superintendent of Education, Mr. Rex has become a lightening rod of criticism and fund raising for the right. While Mark Sanford’s out of state fund raisers are sure to contribute money to the 2010 races, if Jim Rex is the Democratic nominee, Democrats can expect that support to be highly motivated. Rex’s nomination would guarantee one a costly and bitter campaign.
That brings us to the Big 3 Republicans.
The first is Attorney General Henry McMaster. After years of being a party operative, McMaster found his niche as Attorney General. As such, McMaster has received praise from the right and the left. However, one wonders which Henry McMaster will show up for 2010? Will it be the respected Attorney General, or the campaigner who spouts off a little too much? I also fear some of McMaster’s eccentricities could hurt him in a high profile race like Governor. However, McMaster will have the Quinn operation behind him, and that operation is formidable. Add to that the good reputation McMaster has with the public and he is the slight favorite going into the primary. But, can he win a likely runoff? Can he win the general against a new style candidate like Sheheen or Smith? I just do not know.
The second big Republican contender is Congressman Gresham Barrett. Barrett is my Congressman, and frankly, I find him to be a nice guy. However, in statewide politics, being a nice guy might not be enough. Barrett did what he had to do to set himself up for the race by trouncing his Democratic opponent last Tuesday, while fellow Republicans Joe Wilson and Henry Brown endured relatively close victories. However, Barrett has no key accomplishment in office to point to, and that could hurt. On the upside, Barrett is rumored to be the favorite of the Sanford supporters and that will ensure Barrett is well funded. But, Barrett is from the upstate and that might not sell well on the coast, where most SC primaries and elections are decided.
That brings us to Lt. Governor Andre Bauer. The Lt. Governor once indicated he was not going to run for Governor. That has changed. Consider the Lt. Governor in the race. Though he cites Charleston as his hometown, the Lt. Governor represented the midlands of South Carolina in the House and Senate before becoming Lt. Governor. As such, the Lt. Governor built strong ties with the Shealy/Lexington County operation that delivered big for Jake Knotts and Joe Wilson this year and for the Lt. Governor in his primary runoff in 2006. Further, the Lt. Governor has a personal touch and has used his office to continue to reach out to voters, especially senior voters. If I were a Democrat, I would worry about Bauer more than anyone else. Bauer, like Sheheen is both young and experienced, has a track record of working with people in the General Assembly, and has a record of simply outworking his opponents.
The Republicans seemed determined to fight this thing out in a primary. If that happens, I see McMaster with a ticket to the runoff, with Bauer and Barrett fighting to join the Attorney General. I think Bauer has the early edge.
If the Democrats decide to fight it out, I think Rex gets in a runoff, with Smith and Sheheen fighting for the other spot. Call that one a tossup.
However, if the Republicans fight it out and the Democrats somehow find a way to decided on either Sheheen or Smith as their nominee without a fight, we Republicans will be in for a tough fight for the Governor’s office.