The Dorchester Wild Card?


Back in 2000, the last open race for the First Congressional District seat, much was made of outgoing Congressman Henry Brown's "stronghold" approach, in which Berkeley County and North Charleston politicos came out almost unanimously for Brown and campaigned for him. This approach paid off, as Berkeley County and North Charleston precincts gave Brown virtually all of his 5,000 vote lead in the GOP primary over second-place candidate Buck Limehouse, a prelude to his victory in the subsequent run-off.

In 1994, Mark Sanford surged from the back of a seven-candidate field into a distant second place behind former SCGOP Chair Van Hipp, relying heavily upon endorsements from most of the losing primary candidates to go from 17% to Hipp's 31% in the primary to a 53-47 victory in the run-off two weeks later.

Mindful of the value of this approach in deciding past races, the candidates in this year's race for the open First District seat have heavily courted endorsements from legislators, local politicos, party activists and business leaders. Thus far, the two best-funded candidates for the seat - Tim Scott and Paul Thurmond - have netted most of the endorsements, with announcements coming out almost daily from the two campaigns.

However, of the five counties in the district - Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry - virtually none of the endorsements for any candidate have come from Dorchester County.  Given the growing share of First District votes cast by that county, that could make the county's voters the wild card in next month's all-important GOP primary.

In 2000, 50,922 votes were cast in the First District GOP primary, with roughly 10% coming (5,060) from Dorchester.  In 2008, 60,794 votes were cast, with Dorchester County's share over doubling to nearly 19% of the district-wide vote (11,412).  Of the other four counties, three of the four voted roughly the same number of voters in 2008 as in 2000, with Charleston County's share dropping from 39% of the district vote in 2000 (19,860) to 32% in 2008 (19,646).

In 2008, Dorchester's turnout was more than Berkeley (14%) and Georgetown (5%) and less than Charleston (32%) and Horry (30%), with the county overtaking Brown's political stronghold of Berkeley County since the 2000 race.

Given this growing share of the First District primary vote, Dorchester County's GOP voters will be important in deciding the race, especially given the nine candidate field.  Complicating the challenge of winning Dorchester County is the fickle history of its voters in past primaries.  A number of high-ranking elected officials in the First District portion of the county have been thrown out by voters since the 80s:


  • Sheriff: Incumbents defeated in 1988, 1992, 1996 and a close call (51%) in 2004.

  • Senator: Incuments defeated in 1988, 1997, 2004 and 2008.

  • House members defeated in 2002 & 2004 (District 97) and 2008 (District 94).

As this history shows, winning elections in Dorchester County voters isn't easy for candidates in major races. Given the importance of endorsements in winning past First District races, the scarcity of announced endorsements from that county could make that county the wild card next month.

7 Response to "The Dorchester Wild Card?"

  1. Anonymous 15/5/10 22:48
    I disagree, Berkeley is the most important County in the state.
  2. Ryan 17/5/10 09:39
    Earl,

    The lack of endorsements from the county it would seem to be indicative of the tense political climate where there are not many central forces in politics in Dorchester. They tend to be fragmented and getting support from one person could mean you're losing support from another.

    Or it's the simple lack of a Dorchester-based candidate.
  3. Earl Capps 17/5/10 10:11
    Ryan, those are certainly possible explanations as to why people are sitting on the fence.

    Further, the fragmentation theory could help explain the relative instability for incumbents - shifting political alignments make it tough for incumbents to hold on as their support bases splinter or new coalitions line up against them.

    It'll make it interesting to see how the Dorchester vote goes in the First.
  4. Anonymous 17/5/10 11:36
    NOted that you did not mention Carroll Campbell, I think you have been personally negatiev on him in the past... He also has endorsements and has raied more money, i think, than Thurmond. And while these other guys were asleep at the switch, he took on a bailout and free spending R incument.
  5. Anonymous 17/5/10 12:11
    Anon, you should check yourself. FEC.gov ain't that hard to find.

    Tumpy has raised $215,740 with $86,911 on hand. Thurmond $205,249 and $128,388. So he's 10 up on what he raised, and 40 down on what he's got left to spend. That was as of 3/31.

    Tumpy's endorsements are few and include a former SCGOP Chair who surrendered his law license and pled guilty to a phone sex money-laundering deal, along with the all-important Third ViceChair of the Charleston Republicans.

    Jenrette also was taking Henry on, doesn't she count too?

    Yep, those are real big names that I'd brag about having on my team.

    Tumpy, I'm real glad you learned how to turn a computer on.
  6. Anonymous 17/5/10 12:16
    Earl, the FEC says that Parker, Scott, Thurmond and Witte had more cash on hand than Tumpy Boy. It's pretty bad when losing candidates' supporters spend their time crying on a blog.

    When that anon said "personally negatiev", I don't see where you've said anything personally bad or misleading about him. Believe me, there is enough stuff out there that you could say personal, but you don't.

    Thanks for being fair, factual and never sleazy.
  7. Anonymous 17/5/10 13:26
    Tumpy, get off Earl's blog and get back to work!

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