With less than a week to go before Election Day, several State House seats seem to be hotly-contested. While Republicans are pushing hard to build upon strong voter sentiments in their favor as part of their "Drive for 75", Democrats will focus upon holding back GOP ambitions. While most of these seats are not really surprising places for hot races, a couple were ones which a lot of observers initially felt were pretty safe bets.
We'll look at seven House races: Upstate Districts 26, 44 & 47, Midlands District 79, and Lowcountry Districts 115, 116 & 119. Democrats currently hold six of these seven seats, with the one GOP seat being an open one, as well as one of the Democratic seats.
District 26 - Greenville and Pickens Counties: In 1994, Rex Rice rode the GOP wave to knock out a long-time incumbent Democrat. He gave the seat up to pursue a 3rd Congressional District bid which didn't work out, opening the seat up. Republicans are on defense with Eric Bikas, a political newcomer from Pickens County, while the Dems nominated Judy Gilstrap, a veteran Democrat on Greenville County Council. We've heard this one could be close, even with the district's Republican lean.
District 44 - Lancaster County: In the mid-1990s, conservative Democrat Billy Boan switched to the GOP, giving Republicans a seat in a then-strongly Democratic county until he gave it up to take a job in the administration of former Governor Jim Hodges, allowing Democrat Jimmy Neal to take the seat back. This seat wasn't one that was expected to heat up, but Republican Rob McCoy has been recruiting support from the region's thriving Tea Party ranks, as well as from the formidable York County GOP machine. We've heard he's making progress, riding the GOP wave that has put Neal's fellow Democrat, Congressman John Spratt, on the defensive. As Neal has gone unopposed since he won the seat in 1999, this late-breaking race seems to have surprised a few observers and given McCoy a chance to push hard for the seat.
District 47 - York County: Republicans tried to talk Democratic Rep. Herb Kirsh into switching parties, and then opted to leave him alone while they focused on targeting other House seats in the region. Having taken the four other GOP-trending seats near and adjacent to District 47, Republicans recruited former Solicitor Tommy Pope to run for the seat. The last time Kirsh reached 60% of the vote in this GOP-leaning district was 1992, the year Pope's political career started by scoring an upset over the incumbent Democratic Solicitor. Polling numbers we've seen suggest that Pope, who scored 80% of the vote in his June primary, quickly took the lead in this race and has held it all summer and fall. It's hard to see how this isn't another feather in the cap of the surging York County GOP team.
District 79 - Kershaw & Richland Counties: Republicans lost their long hold on District 79 in an open race two years ago. When the popular incumbent suddenly took a federal job offer over the summer, what was considered a write-off by many turned into a wide-open race. Republican nominee Sheri Few lost two previous primary bids: first by the last GOP incumbent in '06 and then in an open primary race two years ago. This time, she had to heavily outspent a novice to win and faces a last-minute Democratic stand-in Mia Butler. Questions have been raised about Few's negatives, but it seems likely that this won't be as much a challenge as those faced by Butler, a late entry into a race for this GOP district in a strong Republican year. Maybe the third time is the charm for Few, but she's blown this race before, so watch to see how this one goes.
District 115 - Charleston County: Two years ago, the embattled Republican incumbent lost a close race for re-election to the controversial Anne Peterson-Hutto, known for a bad attitude, financial problems and even more dangerous driving. Normally this district goes Republican in major races and Hutto took it in a year where the Democratic vote surged. This year, she faces two challengers: Republican Peter McCoy and Green Eugene Platt. McCoy is a local prosecutor making his first bid for office, while Platt has won and held a seat on the local public service board since 1992. McCoy is charging hard to capitalize on the opportunity presented by strong GOP turnout and Platt, with his long record of winning votes in the district, will probably run one of the stronger showings for any third-party S.C. candidates. Given Platt's Green Party affiliation, we suspect his votes will largely come from Hutto's column - maybe enough for McCoy to come out in first place. All three are working hard, but we hear it's going to be a close race between Hutto and McCoy.
District 116 - Charleston and Colleton Counties: Democratic State Rep. Robert Brown has usually counted on safe re-election bids in a district that was drawn with a majority-black population. But over time, development has crept into some of his Charleston precincts. Combined with a strong GOP turnout, it could give Republican Sean Pike a rare shot at winning the seat. He's worked hard with strong support from local Republicans. Strong team support, changing demographics and a strong enough GOP wave could give Pike a shot.
District 119 - Charleston County: Four years ago, Democrats took this long-time GOP seat in an open race. In '06 and '08, Democratic Rep. Leon Starinakis came under sixty percent against relatively weak GOP nominees, a sure sign of weakness going into a strong GOP election cycle. This year, he faces Republican Lee Edwards. Edwards, a long-time face in GOP circles who on the local public service board, has waged a strong enough campaign to force Stavrinakis to go on the offensive. That, combined with the district's GOP lean and Stavrinakis' weak prior wins, doesn't bode well for the incumbent. We've also been told that Edwards is showing some promising numbers, heating up a race which had once been written off.