In years past, building seniority in the State Senate seemed one of the best ways to ensure a long tenure in the Senate. Senate long-termers like John Drummond, John Land, Hugh Leatherman, Glenn McConnell, Harvey Peeler and Verne Smith rarely face challenges (and usually crushed those challengers by lopsided margins) and the occasional ouster of a long-time Senator, such as Greg Gregory’s upset over a 28-year Senator in 1992, were the result of shifting voter demographics, not voter discontent.
In recent years, those Senators who lost seats were relatively low in seniority. In the last two election cycles, three Senators - John Kuhn from Charleston in 2004 and Ceips from Beaufort and Randy Scott from Dorchester in 2008 - were making their first re-election bids and had not accumulated much seniority.
This year could be different as two senior Republicans face what are expected to be strong primary challengers:
- Greenville Senator David Thomas, who won his seat in 1984 and is Chair of the Banking and Insurance Committee, faces four primary opponents following finishing fourth out of five candidates for the 2010 GOP Primary for the Fourth Congressional District. Jim Lee, one of Thomas’ primary opponents, led Thomas in the Congressional race and almost led Thomas in his Senate district’s precincts.
- Pickens Senator Larry Martin, who is completing his twentieth year in the Senate and is one of the most influential members of Judiciary Committee, faces former State Representative Rex Rice, who gave up his House seat in 2010 for a failed GOP primary bid for the Third Congressional District. Rice, a sixteen-year legislator who raised a considerable sum of money for his Congressional bid, is expected to wage a serious campaign for the seat.
In recent years, House seniority has no longer been a shield. Two years ago, voters ousted a Speaker Pro Tem and almost toppled the Ways and Means Chair. Two years before that, the House Education Chair was shown the door. This year’s challenges could signal that these changes are reaching the Senate – or reinforce the point that when it comes to getting re-elected to the Senate, seniority really does matter. Either way, it's up to the voters to decide.
With talk of other challenges still fermenting, stay tuned as filing approaches.