The 1994 primary was a bitter one, as the extension of a long-running intra-party war between social conservatives who had taken control of the party at the SCGOP's convention a year before, and more moderate party elements. Many of those who won the convention floor fight backed House Speaker Pro Tem David Beasley in the gubernatorial primary, while the opposition was divided between former Congressmen Tommy Hartnett and Arthur Ravenel. When Beasley defeated Ravenel in the run-off, many who didn't back Beasley for the nomination simply sat the fall race out, while others were courted by former Lt. Governor Nick Theodore, who had won the Democratic nomination.
While some see the same kind of elements in place this year, polling is increasingly pointing to a slowly-growing lead for Haley that may soon prove impossible for Sheheen to overcome.
Following both the 1994 and 2010 primaries, more than a few Republicans looked at their party's nominees with disdain, concerned they did not take the job seriously, distrusted their tendency to address issues with campaign rhetoric instead of deeper policy discussions, afraid of potential scandals and were embittered by some of the nastiness that had been used by the nominee's campaign and allies. Few efforts were made to address the concerns of those Republicans, especially those who supported candidates who failed to win the nomination.
In 1994, Theodore aggressively sought out those disaffected Republicans, convincing some to sit the race out entirely, winning the support of others - either overt or covert - and even landing a number of endorsements which helped give him credibility in a lot of Republican political "backyards". By contrast, Sheheen's sole effort to reach out to those Republicans seems to be a Facebook page run by someone with no record of being active in the GOP and filled mostly by those with no record of involvement in the GOP.
While Theodore never hesitated to define himself as a different kind of Democrat than then-President Bill Clinton, who had high negatives in South Carolina, Sheheen has been largely silent on Obama, giving the GOP time to corner him. Now, he is in a tough spot: if he shows support for Obama, he risks being perceived as too liberal, but if he attempts to move away, he risks being perceived as an opportunist.
Immediately after the primary, Theodore knew he no chance without sizable crossover support and began moving away from his political "safe harbor", charging aggressively into places and events where there were few Democrats. Theodore found that many South Carolina voters who would normally vote for Republicans would make an exception or two when a strong personal appeal to made to those voters. Those voters were often more moderate and distrusted Beasley's associations with activist and social conservative groups. This approach won over many voters and left Beasley coming in near the bottom of the GOP statewide ticket in a number of key counties, especially along the coast. Sheheen has shown nowhere near the same aggressiveness to chase those voters, with many events and appearances reaching little beyond his base.
Polling showed opportunities for Sheheen. Haley has struggled to move across the 50 percent mark since winning the nomination, which shows she has yet to close the deal with a sizable number of voters, and is considered a sign of weakness for candidates. However, Sheheen consistently remains 12-15 points behind Haley. Theodore kept the 1994 race much closer and Beasley was likely saved by late-breaking voters opting to vote with the GOP wave. Given Sheheen's current standing in polling, the most recent 16 point deficit could turn into a rout of twenty points or more on election day, a wave certain to carry the entire GOP statewide slate to victory.
While polling has shown that Haley has failed to generate much momentum since the run-off, she doesn't have to. She simply has to keep from blowing her current lead and wait for the late-breaking voters to do as they did in 1994 - the last GOP "wave" year: pad the margins of the entire GOP ticket, including her own candidacy.
Sheheen has had opportunities to run a more competitve race, but has failed to capitalize on them. Distrustful Republicans and and a weak GOP nominee should have given him an opening, but he's not gone after them. With a little over two months left before Election Day, it's hard to see how he's going to do anything that he wasn't willing or able to do thus far. But if he is going to change course, he's not got much time left to do so.