South Carolina 1st District
Looking out across the harbor to Fort Sumter are the glorious mansions of the Battery, gazing on the same view that the hot-blooded young swells of Charleston did in April 1861 when they fired the shots that began the Civil War. Today, there are few more beautiful urban scenes in America than the pastel “single houses” of Charleston, built flush with the sidewalk, turning their shoulders to the streets, with open piazzas inside their iron gateways facing south to catch the breeze. Founded in 1670, Charleston was blessed with one of the finest harbors on the Atlantic, at the point where, Charlestonians like to say, the Ashley and Cooper rivers meet to form the Atlantic Ocean. It was one of the South’s two leading cities through the Civil War. Cargoes of rice, indigo, cotton and slaves, crossed its docks, enriching the white planters and merchants who dominated the state’s economic and political life. After the war, Charleston became an economic backwater, enabling the old buildings to survive. The loving restorations of recent years have made the center city look better than ever and attracted a considerable tourist trade.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Charleston’s old society is descended from Barbados planters and French Huguenots, Sephardic Jews and the second sons of English gentry, and was once a leading force in American political life. The hotheads in the gallery disrupted the 1860 Democratic National Convention here so boisterously that it was adjourned and reconvened in Baltimore, while Southern Democrats split off and nominated their own candidate, enabling Abraham Lincoln to win with 38% of the popular vote. The history of black South Carolinians, memorialized in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, is noteworthy, but the tale of slavery, once hidden under a blanket of politeness, is only now emerging, as many, though not all, plantations near Charleston add programs on the history of slavery to tours once dominated by romantic tales of the old South.
Navy and Air Force bases once accounted for 20% of payrolls in metropolitan Charleston. Many of these bases are now closed, but a vibrant private economy with lots of small companies has emerged, most notably at the 1,600-acre Charleston Naval Base, where, thanks to concerted efforts by regional officials, thousands of new jobs have been created since the base closed in 1996. In 2007, the port handled goods worth more than $60 billion. It is the 16th busiest port in the nation; it’s larger than Norfolk but not as big as Savannah. Ninety miles northeast, Myrtle Beach has witnessed a boom in retirees and vacationers. Myrtle Beach and the 60-mile Grand Strand, miles of beachfront and golf courses, attract 14 million tourists annually and the population of Horry County has grown 31% since 2000.
The 1st Congressional District of South Carolina stretches along the coast from south of Charleston to north of Myrtle Beach, and takes in Murrells Inlet, Pawleys Island and Litchfield Beach. It includes the heavily white Battery and the area west of the Ashley River but not the heavily African-American areas to the north and in North Charleston. But the 1st District is still relatively diverse, with a 20% black population. It also includes the burgeoning suburbs in Berkeley and Dorchester counties. Google in 2008 opened a $600 million data center in Berkeley, with an expected 200 new jobs. In addition to the dominant tourism industry, the chief sources of local jobs are the port, the military and farming. This is solidly Republican country. It voted 61% for George W. Bush in 2004 and 56% for John McCain in 2008. The conservatism of the Lowcountry—the term for South Carolina’s coastal counties, including Charleston—is more economic and less cultural than the conservatism of the Upstate region of South Carolina. Many voters here favor environmental restrictions and efforts to curb sprawl.