If there is a drawback to being a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, it's that the campaign never stops. Voters weigh your political fate every two years, so the next campaign officially begins the day after you're elected.
When he's not in Washington, Rep. Tim Scott has been busy heading up and down the long, narrow 1st District. But he has also been reaching a little farther down the coast. Last week, Scott was in Beaufort County's Sun City, deep in the heart of Rep. Joe "You Lie" Wilson's territory. Scott was the featured speaker at a Beaufort County Republican Party dinner last weekend, but it wasn't just a social visit — Scott is introducing himself to voters who may be drawn back into his district.
The 2010 Census numbers earned the Palmetto State a seventh congressional seat, and the redrawing will shake up the top-heavy coastal region. State legislators will be redrawing the lines, but their final decisions will need U.S. Justice Department approval.
At a recent redistricting hearing in Beaufort, former Statehouse Rep. Edie Rodgers told state legislators that Beaufort should be part of a coastal congressional district and not be represented by Wilson, a Lexington resident. "We were once part of the 1st Congressional District, which includes Charleston," she said, according to Bluffton Today. "A lot of us were not happy when we were removed from that district."
During Scott's recent Sun City visit, the congressman's Deputy Chief of Staff Joe McKeown told Beaufort reporters that it looked like Rodgers would get her wish. "The conventional wisdom seems to state that that's how it's going to be redrawn," he said. "However, it is completely up to the state of South Carolina. Tim would absolutely love to represent the Beaufort area in Congress, and now we're in a wait-and-see mode."
The conventional wisdom McKeown is speaking of has Horry County anchoring a new seventh congressional district in the Palmetto State, presumably because the deep red county would easily secure a new GOP congressman. It makes sense, but it creates a dangerous political gambit for Scott as other GOPers in the South Carolina caucus look to secure their bases.
When you look at the 2010 landscape and map out Republican and Democrat support, it's hard to draw new Congressional lines for a safe sixth GOP district. Looking at the 2008 map, which is likely a more reasonable comparison to 2012, the geography is even more precarious.
The solid GOP voters aren't where the party needs them. There are two options. You can make every Republican district a little less red, therefore making each a little more competitive. Or you isolate the Democratic threat in one currently GOP-controlled district and pray you've got a Republican who is beloved enough to beat the stiff competition. It looks like they may be going with the second option, and Scott is the guinea pig.
Horry County has kept the 1st District in Republican hands. Democrat Linda Ketner would have won the seat in 2008 if she had done better along the Grand Strand. Beaufort County is simply not a replacement. Had the 1st District included Beaufort instead of Horry and Georgetown, Ketner would have won the seat in 2008.
And that doesn't include other dangerous variables for Scott's chances in 2012. To get to Beaufort, he'll have to go through largely Democratic Colleton County. And there's also talk of Congressman Jim Clyburn's district moving out of Charleston, putting even more Democrats in the 1st District.
And the math for Scott only gets worse when you start halving counties. The bulk of the GOP vote in Beaufort County is on Hilton Head Island. But that small population of retirees and golf enthusiasts is a major cash cow for Wilson and one that he may not be willing to part with in redistricting. So, if Scott only gets the northern end of Beaufort, he's in even worse trouble.
Where to go for relief? The map doesn't offer much solace. The best hope is a few GOP voters that could help in the portion of Clyburn's district on Daniel Island. Anything else heading up Interstate 26 would only make matters worse. That may be why Scott is already in Beaufort. He knows he'll have to fight for every vote. And, if he wins in 2012, the next big fight is right around the corner.