Democrats strong-arming in Clarendon House race?

The House race to replace the late state Representative Cathy Harvin has turned into a wide-open race with six candidates in the race: four Democrats and two Republicans.

The Blogland has had a number of reports of strong-arming taking place to keep candidates out of the race. This strong-arming was aimed at benefitting the one white Democratic candidate in the race: Clarendon County Council Chair Dwight Stewart.

Political realities in the region have been changing in recent years. In Clarendon County, which comprises all but five precincts of House District 64, GOP strength has been growing. Senator Jim DeMint led Democrat Senate candidate Alvin Green (who is running for the state House special election) by five points in Clarendon County, while every other GOP candidate won no less than 41 percent of the vote, each of them pulling roughly ten points less than their statewide averages (ranging from Haley with 41% to Secretary of State Mark Hammond with 47%).

Take these trends and factor in the GOP's ability to outperform general election performance in special election contests around the state and an upset victory by a Republican candidate could take place. Especially if the Democrats split over a bitter primary or nominated a weak candidate while Republicans picked a strong one in their primary.

The Blogland has spoken with several people who reported efforts by Clarendon County's white Democratic leadership to help advance Stewart's candidacy. As it is expected that black voters would likely comprise well over half the voters in the Democratic primary for this seat, it was decided that large white voter turnout and a divided field of black candidates would benefit Stewart, and a two-pronged effort was made to help bring this outcome about.

The first move was to keep the black political leadership from rallying behind a single strong candidate in the Democratic primary. When they failed to keep Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Manning and a well-known Clarendon County politico, out of the race, they recruited a third black candidate at the last moment to draw support from Johnson and Alvin Greene.

Their second move was to prevent a GOP primary to ensure white voters were free to support Stewart, who had been working to secure cross-over support from Republicans in the district, in the Democratic primary. Local Democratic leaders made numerous efforts to talk several Republicans out of running, but the entry of long-time state politico Sonny Sanders, a former staff member for Congressmen Floyd Spence and Joe Wilson, into the race ensured a Republican primary. 

It is expected that in the coming weeks, a nasty battle will break out between long-time white Democrats and black Democrats over the race to fill this seat. We've spoken with several black Democratic activists in this region who have - to a person - expressed frustration with the local party leadership, feeling they were entitled to a fair shot at this seat. One summed it up as "the only way to get ahead in this county is to be white and from one of two families", and most of the others we talked to generally shared those sentiments.

The fallout from this infighting could offer the GOP a rare opportunity at winning the seat and scoring a historic win in Clarendon County.

1 Response to "Democrats strong-arming in Clarendon House race?"

  1. Jimmy 5/1/11 08:39
    I remember a great "national spotlight on rural South Carolina politics" article a while back in the Wall Street Journal, I think (was sometime in the past 10-15 years). The focus on it was John Land, about how Manning and Clarendon County is like his "fiefdom" (I think it actually used that word), about how the Election Commission was being run out of his law office or something like that. I think it was this article that also talked about how Land has maintained power for all these years and how one of the things he did was to keep his kids in the public schools years ago instead of transferring them to one of the "segregation academies" in Clarendon and how this helped him win strong black support in his community.

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