GovernorMark Sanford (R)
SenatorsLindsey Graham (R)
Jim DeMint (R)
- 2 D, 4 R
- 1 through 6
South Carolina, at times beleaguered and under attack, stands proud but not untroubled, a state that has made much progress but still has some distance to go. Within living memory, South Carolina looked like an underdeveloped country. Aside from a relatively small pool of very wealthy people, it was among the poorest of states, with income levels less than half the national average and with high levels of illiteracy and disease. The state was founded by planters from Barbados and even today there are reminders of the West Indies—the semitropical climate, the lush foliage and trademark palmettos, and the billions in damage from hurricanes. South Carolina started off with a plantation economy built on the swampy Lowcountry below the Fall Line, where 18th and 19th century planters built rice paddies and cultivated exotic crops like indigo in the days before cotton was king. The great wealth of these Lowcountry planters was destroyed by the Civil War which they, more than any other Southerners, provoked. But their pride and way of life continued as did that of former slaves. As late as 1940, 43% of South Carolinians were black, most living in conditions inconceivable today. South Carolina’s economic growth started only in the 1920s, with the low-wage textile industry. Mills were built in the Upstate region northwest of Columbia, hiring poor whites (never blacks) from the hardscrabble farms in the area. Politics remained a rough business, with harsh appeals to racial fear and economic envy, and with limited participation. In 1940, just 99,000 South Carolinians voted for president, 96% of them Democratic, the highest Democratic percentage in the nation. In the 1946 Democratic primary, the year Strom Thurmond was elected governor, only 271,000 people voted in a state of more than 2 million.
In the last half-century, this once underdeveloped state has joined the First World. Personal incomes have risen dramatically and are near the national average, and factory productivity rose 59%. Poverty fell sharply. Health standards are as good as those in the rest of the nation. Educational achievement still lags, though not nearly as much as before, with 80% of white and 65% of black adults classified as high school graduates. Homeownership is well above the national average. Back in the 1970s, much of South Carolina’s economy depended on the military bases clustered around Charleston and on the big textile mills around Greenville and Spartanburg. Then South Carolina became the most aggressive state in the South in attracting new industry. It advertised its business climate, with the nation’s lowest rates of unionization, its low taxes, its willingness to give tax breaks and a $300 to $1,500 job creation income tax credit. From 1960 to 1990, international investment in the state grew from $80 million to $16.4 trillion. It enticed French and German firms to set up major operations in the Piedmont and the Lowcountry, a process capped when BMW in 1992 built its first U.S. assembly plant in Spartanburg. Nearby are big Michelin and Fuji Photo plants. Vought Aircraft and Alenia Aeronautica’s airplane plant in North Charleston is building aft parts of fuselages for Boeing’s successful 787 Dreamliner. Hilton Head and the Grand Strand around Myrtle Beach bring in millions of tourists every year, along with thousands of new residents, many of them affluent retirees. In Columbia, the University of South Carolina has been building a big Innovista research area in Columbia’s Congaree Vista. Many of South Carolina’s military bases have long since been closed, and much of the textile work has migrated elsewhere. Lower-income workers have gravitated to the poultry industry, the state’s No. 1 agricultural product. Economically and culturally, South Carolina has been part of the booming South Atlantic region from Maryland to Florida, filling up with new retirement condominiums, time shares (it ranks No.2 in the country in time shares), factories, office buildings and giant shopping centers. It grew robustly for two decades, though not as rapidly as neighboring Georgia and North Carolina. From 2000 to 2008, its population increased 18%, with two-thirds of that from internal migration. But some of that growth proved to be a bubble, and by 2008, South Carolina was throttled by the national recession, with the highest unemployment in the South Atlantic.
As South Carolina’s economy was transformed, the state slowly, sometimes grudgingly, overcame its heritage of slavery and racial segregation. Starting in the 1950s, fewer people were kept from voting by the poll tax, and turnout surged as South Carolina became competitive in the presidential elections of 1952, 1956 and 1960. Clemson University was peaceably desegregated during the governorship of Democrat Ernest Hollings (1959-62). Most South Carolina whites opposed integration, but not with the violence of their counterparts in Alabama and Mississippi. Then, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ended legal segregation of public accommodations and workplaces and brought blacks into the electorate. This changed the political balance. Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond, who staged a record-setting filibuster of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, started appointing black staffers and a black federal judge in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But politics still cleaves the electorate along racial lines. In 2008, South Carolina whites voted 73%-26% for Republican presidential nominee John McCain and blacks voted 96%-4% for Democratic nominee Barack Obama. For several years, South Carolina grappled with a controversy over the Confederate battle flag, flown over the state Capitol since 1962. Successive governors—Republican David Beasley and Democrat Jim Hodges—favored taking it down. The NAACP organized a boycott of the state. Finally in May 2000, the Legislature voted to fly the flag not from the Capitol, but from a 30-foot pole on the Capitol grounds, and a monument to African-American history was opened nearby. The state NAACP was still not satisfied, and continued the boycott.
Until the 1960s, South Carolina was an inward-looking state, with few people except military personnel moving in. That has changed as the economy has grown. Most of the newcomers are white, with conservative attitudes but less feeling for the state’s ancient traditions. Only in the last few years has there been significant immigration. In 2008, South Carolina’s population was 29% black, far below the near-majority of the 1940s, and 4% Hispanic. The fastest growth in recent years has been in coastal resort areas around Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach and in suburban counties outside Charleston and just south of Charlotte, N.C. This demographic change has moved South Carolina politically toward the Republicans. But that change might not have occurred without the efforts of two individuals. One was Thurmond, who had voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, but who switched to the Republican Party in September 1964 and provided critical votes to nominate Richard Nixon at the 1968 Republican National Convention. South Carolina voted for Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Nixon in 1968 and has only once voted for a Democrat since, Jimmy Carter in 1976, by a narrow margin. The other individual was Carroll Campbell, elected governor in 1986 and 1990, who with the aid of the late Lee Atwater built a Republican Party capable of electing statewide officials and majorities in the Legislature. In 1988, Campbell and Atwater, by then George H. W. Bush’s campaign manager, set up the early Republican primary, on the Saturday before Super Tuesday, which enabled Bush to clinch the Republican nomination that year. It did the same for Republican Bob Dole in 1996 and, against John McCain’s strong challenge, for Republican George W. Bush in 2000. In 1989, Campbell and Atwater seemed to be Thurmond’s heirs. But Atwater died of a brain tumor at 39 in 1991 and Campbell died in 2005 at age 65.
South Carolina’s other senator for years, Democrat Ernest Hollings, retired in 2004 after 38 years, 36 of them as a junior senator—a record. South Carolina politics now belongs to a new generation. In 2002, former U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, at odds with many organization Republicans, beat Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges 53%-47%, and Rep. Lindsey Graham won the race to succeed Thurmond, 54%-44%. In 2004, President George W. Bush carried the state 58%-41%, Republican Rep. Jim DeMint beat Democrat Inez Tenenbaum for Hollings’ Senate seat 54%-44%, and Republicans held their majority in the state Senate and gained one seat in the state House. Sanford was re-elected 55%-45% in 2006, and Republicans held onto their legislative majorities. The Republican tide ebbed a bit in 2008, when McCain carried the state by just 54%-45%. Graham was re-elected to the Senate comfortably and Republicans lost two seats in the state House. Sanford is term-limited in 2010, and was the subject of a sensational sex scandal in 2009.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
In presidential general elections, South Carolina has been reliably Republican for a long time. It was the only Deep South state to vote for Richard Nixon over George Wallace in 1968 and since then has voted Democratic only once, for Jimmy Carter in 1976. In the 2004 general election, Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards did return to his hometown, Seneca, S.C., but took care not to linger long.
The presidential primaries are another matter. South Carolina has been important, indeed decisive, in determining the Republican nomination since its 1988 primary, and, with an early spot on the calendar, played a major role in the Democratic race in 2008. Back in 1980, the state Republican chairman scheduled the South Carolina primary early, to help Ronald Reagan, and in 1987, GOP operative Lee Atwater craftily scheduled the Republican primary for the Saturday before Super Tuesday, a collection of mostly Southern primaries that Democrats hoped would move their party toward choosing a moderate Southerner. Instead, South Carolina moved Republicans toward choosing a moderate Southern Republican, George H.W. Bush of Texas, who won a 49%-21%-19% victory here over Bob Dole and Pat Robertson, a foretaste of the Southern sweep that clinched his nomination four days later. Democrats chose their delegates by caucus. A Democratic primary would have had an electorate about 50% African-American and would surely have produced a victory for civil rights leaders and South Carolina native Jesse Jackson, which would not have been helpful to the party in state elections. In 1992, Bush beat Pat Buchanan 67%-26%, squashing Buchanan’s claims to Southern support. Democrats held a primary the same day, which Bill Clinton won with 63% of the vote. In 1996, former Gov. Carroll Campbell and Gov. David Beasley led a grass-roots campaign that gave Dole, after his disappointing showings elsewhere, an impressive 45%-29% victory over Buchanan. And in 2000 Campbell and Beasley, both by then ex-governors, supported George W. Bush, as he beat John McCain 53%-42%. Democrats chose their delegates by caucus in 1996 and 2000.
In 2004, Democrats held a primary on February 2, a week after New Hampshire, and attracted 292,000 voters, only about half of what Republicans attracted in 2000. Native son Edwards won 45% of the vote, more than John Kerry’s 30%, but perhaps not the landslide he wanted. He had campaigned hard in South Carolina and spent little time in Oklahoma, which voted the same day; there he lost to Wesley Clark of Arkansas by 1,300 votes. That kept Clark in the race and gave Edwards a Southern rival who probably cost him some votes.
Presidential primaries in South Carolina are conducted by the state’s two political parties, not by state government, and they can choose to hold them on different days. For 2008, the Republicans first chose February 2, the earliest date under the national party’s rules and in the Atwater tradition held on a Saturday to set an example for the bunch of states voting the following Tuesday. But after Florida moved to schedule its primary on January 29, South Carolina Republicans responded by moving their primary to January 19 to protect the state’s first-in-the-South status. They were careful to act in tandem with New Hampshire, which moved its date backward from January 22 to, finally, January 8. On the other side, the Democratic National Committee chose South Carolina as the only state allowed to hold a pre-February 5 primary, except of course for New Hampshire, and South Carolina Democrats picked January 26.
Candidates started coming into the state early. Sen. Lindsey Graham once again backed fellow Republican Sen. John McCain strongly. Republican Sen. Jim DeMint endorsed Mitt Romney, and Gov. Mark Sanford, to the consternation of the McCain camp, stayed neutral. On the Democratic side, the most coveted endorsement was that of Rep. James Clyburn, the House majority whip and an African-American who was an obvious force in a primary whose electorate was likely to be about 50% black. Candidates and surrogates thronged to his 16th annual fish fry in Columbia in April, where the crowd consumed 1,200 pounds of whiting, but Clyburn frustrated all sides by staying determinedly neutral right through the January 26 election.
McCain, wary of a repetition of unfounded charges that he fathered a black child that were spread anonymously against him in the 2000 campaign, did not flinch from returning, even when his campaign was at low ebb. Romney spent large sums and made frequent trips to the state. Mike Huckabee, fresh from his victory in the Iowa caucuses, looked forward to competing in another state with a large evangelical Protestant population and hoped to expand his appeal beyond that base. Fred Thompson, doubtful of his chances in earlier states, decided to stake his campaign on this seemingly friendly turf. Reporters continued to bring up the issue of the Confederate battle flag. McCain and Romney opposed the flying of the flag, while Huckabee said, “You don’t like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag.” McCain and Romney targeted the Lowcountry, Huckabee and Thompson the Upstate region and rural areas. South Carolina proved a turning point for each of the campaigns. Turnout was 446,000 people, down 22% from 2000.
Romney, having failed to win either Iowa or New Hampshire and apparently not catching on in the Lowcountry, flew to Nevada on the Thursday before the Saturday primary. He finished fourth, with 15% of the vote, and a few hours later won the Nevada caucuses, in which half the voters were Mormons like him. Thompson, for all his folksiness and experience, failed to break Huckabee’s connection with religious conservatives, and finished third with 16%. After the results were in, he quietly left the race. At the top of the ballot, McCain finished ahead of Huckabee by only 33%-30%. Huckabee got 43% from evangelical Protestants, but few votes from everyone else. McCain carried the Lowcountry and the Columbia media market, beating Romney in affluent suburbs. But his percentage was lower than in the two-candidate 2000 primary. Had Thompson not been on the ballot, Huckabee would probably have won. But the same could be said of Romney, and there were more votes cast for McCain and Romney than for Huckabee and Thompson. In any case, this narrow victory not only kept McCain in the race but did much to make him the frontrunner, as he became after winning the Florida primary on January 29.
The Democrats had a three-candidate contest in South Carolina, their last in the primary season. Edwards, who was born in South Carolina, visited the state most frequently and assured voters he understood their plight. Obama visited also and hoped that African-American voters would support him. Hillary Rodham Clinton did not concede black votes and particularly targeted black women. This was the first contest with significant numbers of African-American voters, and observers watched the polls closely. At the outset, black voters in South Carolina seemed split about evenly between Obama and Clinton. But by mid-December, Obama started getting more support, and his victory in the Iowa caucuses convinced many skeptical blacks that whites would vote for him and therefore he had a serious chance to win. By early January, Obama appeared to be sweeping African-American voters. Former President Bill Clinton, campaigning for his wife, seemed desperate to turn things around. He remarked that Obama’s claim to have strongly opposed the Iraq war from the beginning was “a fairy tale,” and accused the Obama campaign of coercing voters in the Nevada caucus (held before South Carolina Democrats voted). Clyburn, while careful to stay neutral, criticized the former president, saying, “He needs to chill a little bit.” The comment may have sent a signal to black voters that Clyburn leaned to Obama, who was also helped by the appearance of television personality Oprah Winfrey at a rally in Columbia.
Turnout in the Democratic primary on January 26 was 532,000 voters, 19% more than in the Republican contest, though still below Republican turnout in 2000. Obama won a crushing victory with 55% of the vote, winning 78% among blacks and a not inconsiderable 24% among whites. Obama carried all but two counties at opposite ends of the state. Hillary Clinton was second, with 26% of the vote. She won about 36% among whites and 19% among blacks, and she carried Horry County (the Grand Strand). Edwards was a poor third, with only 18% in the state where he was born. He carried his boyhood home of Oconee County and nothing else. He won about 40% among whites and virtually nothing among blacks. His third place finish in the one primary state that he’d won four years earlier ended Edwards’s six-year career as a presidential candidate. Clinton, in contrast, was able to hold on, but with the knowledge that she was likely to lose the lion’s share of African-American votes, and therefore every primary in which the electorate was heavily or majority black, from here on out. Had Obama not run, she probably would have swept black voters everywhere.
Few national political reporters returned to South Carolina after the January contests. While North Carolina was seriously contested in the fall and actually voted for Obama, and Georgia proved to be quite close indeed, McCain carried South Carolina by the comfortable but not huge spread of 54%-45%. Whites voted nearly 3-to-1 for McCain, including young whites. Blacks voted 96%-4% for Obama. Although the Obama campaign did not target South Carolina, many blacks were inspired to vote. First-time voters went 59%-40% for Obama. Whether this will permanently improve Democrats’ position in the state is unclear; the exit poll showed party identification 41%-38% Republican.
|111th Congress: 2 D, 4 R|
After the 2000 census, control of the South Carolina redistricting process was split between Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges and the Republican-controlled Legislature. In September 2001, the Legislature passed a plan with no major changes. It expanded the black-majority 6th District, which extends from Columbia to Charleston and includes much of the Lowcountry and Pee Dee area. Hodges vetoed the plan and Republicans failed to override. A three-judge federal court took over, and in March 2002 decided on a plan that smoothed out the lines considerably and reduced the black percentage in the 6th District to 57%.
South Carolina is expected to gain a seat from the 2010 census, though if the recession reduces growth, it might not. Republicans enter the 2010 election cycle with the governorship and substantial legislative majorities, and are likely to retain them. In addition, there may be pressure to create a second black-majority district, though that would require boundaries considerably more convoluted than the current plan. The state’s highest-growth areas—metro Charleston and Hilton Head, the Grand Strand, the exurbs of metro Charlotte—tend to vote Republican.