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Blog Home Page --> Senate -- South Carolina

S.C. Dems Uphold Greene's Primary Win

By Kyle Trygstad

South Carolina Democrats last night upheld Alvin Greene's surprising Senate primary victory after hearing a protest from the candidate expected to win the race, Vic Rawl. Greene won the June 8 contest with 59 percent without running a viable campaign operation.

The AP reports that "experts and voters testified for Rawl that questionable balloting statistics and problems with touch-screen voting machines indicated a corrupted final tally... But committee members said they hadn't been presented with enough concrete evidence and could not overturn an election, no matter how much they wanted Rawl, a former lawmaker and judge, to win."

In a statement following the state party executive committee vote, Chairwoman Carol Fowler said: "South Carolina Democrats are ready to move past the primary and focus on taking our state back with our Democratic slate. These men and women we have nominated truly represent our core values and will change the direction of our state."

Democrats had been hoping for a different outcome. Greene never filed an FEC report and does not have a campaign web site, while Rawl has a noteworthy resume and was able to loan his campaign $125,000 in the primary. The national party is not expected to step in to support Greene, with its valuable resources better spent defending or fighting to pick up seats elsewhere.

"Right now the DSCC is not engaged there," committee Chairman Robert Menendez said last week.

Some of the question marks surrounding Greene include how the unemployed man who lives with his father was able to pay the $10,440 candidate filing fee and the earlier AP report that Greene is facing a felony charge of obscenity.

Greene will now face first-term Sen. Jim DeMint, who's become a hero to conservatives around the country. He would be heavily favored to retain the seat no matter who the Democratic nominee is.

RCP rates this race Safe Republican.

SC Poll: DeMint Safe, For Now

Without a significant challenger, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R) looks to be safe as he seeks a second term in 2010. But there are some warning signs in a new Public Policy Polling (D) survey (570 RVs, 12/3-6, MoE +/- 4.1%).

In a hypothetical mathchup, DeMint gets 47 percent of the vote, compared with 38 percent for a generic Democrat, with 16 percent undecided. DeMint's approval rating is also under 50 percent -- with 44 percent approving and 29 percent disapproving. President Obama actually has a slightly higher approval rating with 46 percent, but 49 percent disapprove of his job performance.

If there is a challenge to be made, a Democrat could run on the notion that DeMint is giving his constituents short shrift. Forty-one percent of those surveyed agreed with the notion that DeMint is more focused on "being a national leader in the conservative movement," while 29 percent thought he's advocating for South Carolina. DeMint recently said he wished he'd shouted "You Lie!" at Obama, as his Congressional colleague did. And Democrats also seized on a quote from DeMint, saying, "Every vote I take is not about South Carolina. It's about the United States of America."

In the Palmetto State, 35 percent say they support the health care bill while 53 percent oppose it.

UPDATE: Rasmussen also has some numbers in South Carolina today, in a survey of 500 likely voters. In South Carolina, voters said the Republican Party should be more like DeMint than his Republican colleague, Lindsay Graham, by a 38-32 percent margin.

DeMint's favorable rating in this survey is 63 percent, while 25 percent have an unfavorable view. That number is certainly in the range where incumbents can be considered safe.

Four Primaries Up Today

Voters in four states will head to the polls today to choose party nominees in House and Senate contests, and both parties are paying close attention to several matchups that could offer insights into voters' minds in advance of November.

In Virginia's Eleventh District, Rep. Tom Davis' decision to step down opened another Republican seat in a swing district that has trended leftwards of late. Former Rep. Leslie Byrne, who represented the Fairfax-based district for a single term before Davis beat her in 1994, is running against County Board of Supervisors chair Gerry Connolly for the Democratic nomination, and the race looks closer than it once did.

Connolly, long seen as the local party's favorite choice for the seat, came in with a strong fundraising base and has largely run as the more moderate, bipartisan candidate. Backed by Senator Jim Webb, Byrne is strongly against the war in Iraq, and has run significantly to Connolly's left, aided on the fundraising front by EMILY's List. While Connolly began the race as a serious front-runner, Byrne has hit him for his association with a defense contractor and painted herself as the only real Democrat in the race, making some speculate that the race has tightened.

The winner of today's primary will face Republican Keith Fimian, who despite being largely unknown in the district, has already raised more than $900,000, including more than $300,000 of his own money. Fimian is Davis' hand-picked successor, though he will face an uphill battle in a district that President Bush only barely won in 2004.

In Maine, Democrats are choosing a replacement for Rep. Tom Allen in the state's southern First District. A district that was once at least competitive is now considered solidly Democratic, and former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree, who lost a Senate race to Republican Susan Collins in 2002, is widely viewed as the overwhelming front-runner.

Former State Senate President Mike Brennan and current State Senator Ethan Strimling, who holds an overwhelmingly Democratic Portland-based seat, are also competitive, and District Attorney Mark Lawrence and Iraq war veteran Adam Cote are the other well-funded candidates. Pingree has far outraised the others, pulling in more than $1.3 million, largely with the help of EMILY's List. Two Republicans are running as well, though neither is seen as a serious challenge in a district that re-elected Allen with more than 60% in all but his initial race.

Allen will be on the ballot as well today. The six-term Congressman is expected to cruise to victory by a wide margin over an unknown educator to win the right to take on Collins in November. Polls have showed Collins owning a big lead in the race, though national Democrats have made known they will spend significantly in the state.

Farther south, Senator Lindsey Graham faces a challenge from former RNC committee member Buddy Witherspoon, who has slammed the South Carolina Republican for his involvement in the so-called "Gang of 14," a group of senators who reached bipartisan agreements on judicial nominees, and for Graham's support for a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform. While Witherspoon has gotten some attention, and while Graham is not the most popular Republican in the state, the incumbent is likely to cruise to renomination.

More interesting in the Palmetto State will be Governor Mark Sanford's efforts to target a number of incumbents from his own party in state legislative races. Frustrated with some legislators' spending habits and their attempts to override his vetoes of spending measures, Sanford has actively campaigned against incumbents for months in hopes of winning a new, more cooperative majority.

Finally, though voters in North Dakota get to head to the polls today, the two statewide races have already been decided. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, a Democrat, is seeking his ninth term and will face retired Navy officer Duane Sand in November. Pomeroy beat Sand by a wide 60%-40% margin in 2004. And Governor John Hoeven is seeking his third term; he and Lieutenant Governor Jack Dalrymple will face State Senator Tim Mathern and State Rep. Merle Boucher, the Democratic ticket, this Fall.

Two Sens Up With Ads

It may be early, but two incumbent senators seeking re-election are already up with television ads aiming to bolster their already-strong chances at another six years in office. Senator Max Baucus, the conservative Montana Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham, the moderate South Carolina Republican, have debuted two very different spots, and for very different reasons.

For Baucus, the math is simple: Avoid a strong challenger. The five-term senator has faced only one very strong challenge, from now-Rep. Denny Rehberg in 1996, when he took 50% to the Republican's 45%. In other years, Baucus has not slipped below 65%. National Republicans went to Rehberg urging him to run again this year, but he refused.

Baucus is now up with an ad featuring two Republicans, one the former head of the Montana Hospital Association, and a registered nurse, all of whom testify to Baucus' power in Washington and his connection to his home state. The ad, produced by Democratic powerhouse GMMB, is intended to remind Montanans that unlike Conrad Burns, Baucus' colleague until 2006, the Democrat has not lost touch with his roots.

Graham is facing the threat of a primary challenge from Republicans angry with his more moderate positions on immigration and for his role in the so-called "Gang of 14," the group of Senators who helped break an impasse over judicial confirmations. RNC committeeman Buddy Witherspoon has already launched a challenge, and though Graham has a financial and political advantage, he's not taking any chances.

In order to shore up his conservative credentials, Graham is turning to the one person least likely to be seen in GOP television spots as November approaches. "I'm proud to stand with Senator Lindsey Graham. He bases his votes on conservative principles," President Bush says, praising Graham's work on confirming Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

The ad, produced by Scott Howell & Co., is at once a reminder of Bush's remaining relevance and what could be his swan song in political spots. Ahead of the June GOP primary, Graham wants help from a face party regulars recognize and still love. And though he is known as one of John McCain's strongest allies, Graham turned instead to the president to get the job done. Come November, it will be McCain's face that replaces Bush's in many GOP Senate ads.

Graham Getting A Challenger?

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is getting it on all sides. Republicans are unhappy with Graham's position on immigration, among other issues. Until a federal indictment for cocaine distribution, Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, a fellow Republican, was said to be set to mount a bid against the freshman Senator. Rumors of a Republican primary challenger continue to swirl, focusing on David Wilkins, the current U.S. Ambassador to Canada and former State House Speaker, among other candidates.

Now, Graham is getting a Democratic opponent, and one stronger than he probably contemplated. Former State Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin, a wealthy public relations executive from Greenville, said yesterday he's contemplating a Senate race.

Erwin stepped down from his position as party chairman in April as rumors of a bid first cropped up. He told the Associated Press yesterday that he has since received encouragement from around the state, and that top Democrats are launching a serious draft campaign.

State party chairs don't have the best success in statewide races -- think former Arizona Democratic Party chairman Jim Pederson, who lost a bid for Senate last year, or former Colorado Republican Party chairman Bob Beauprez, who lost his bid for governor in 2006. Still, Erwin, like Pederson, would be able to kick-start his campaign with a loan. Even if Graham survives a bitterly contested primary, South Carolina Republicans are unlikely to choose a Democrat over their nominee, and Erwin could give the incumbent a closer race than he would like.