by Paul Bowers
When voters in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District go to the polls on Nov. 4, here are the choices they will see on the ballot for Rep. Mark Sanford's seat:
Democrats are not fielding a challenger to the Republican incumbent this year, despite the fact that Sanford continues to grab headlines with his serial oversharing. His love life is even being lampooned in an off-Broadway play called Tail! Spin! (no, really). Theoretically, the attack ads would write themselves.
Why are the Democrats giving Sanford a free pass this year? We put the question to Brady Quirk-Garvan, chairman of the Charleston County Democratic Party.
"In an ideal world, we would file someone to run in every district in every position," Quirk-Garvan said. "But I think part of it comes down to — you know, we can throw out the buzzword of 'gerrymander' — but you have to look at the numbers and how competitive a district is based on prior performance. I think in any number of instances, you can look at people who might have major flaws but are able to stay in office solely because of the way the Republicans drew the district lines."
The South Carolina legislature re-drew Congressional districts in 2010 to create a new seventh district. In the process, the coastal 1st District, which initially extended from Charleston County to the state's northern border, was shifted south to include Beaufort County, with the northern end of Charleston County as the northern border. According to the Rose Institute's Redistricting America project, the racial demographics of the new 1st District are "not very different from the previous demographics," and the redistricting was not expected to change the district's Partisan Voting Index, which described the district as consistently Republican.
Republican Congressmen have held the 1st District since 1981. Still, Democrats managed to put up a candidate in the elections of 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012, along with the special election of 2013 to fill now-U.S. Sen. Tim Scott's vacant House seat. They even came tantalizingly close to victory in 2008, when Linda Ketner took home 48 percent of the vote against incumbent Henry Brown, and again in 2013, when Elizabeth Colbert-Busch earned 45.2 percent against Sanford.
Under South Carolina election laws, an individual could have filed as a Democrat in the 1st District without even going through the Democratic Party. But that didn't happen this year, and neither did the Democrats seek anybody out, according to Quirk-Garvan. He says, however, that the district is becoming "more competitive with each passing year," and he says the party is "actively looking at" fielding candidates in 2016 and 2018.
"For us it's about pushing to put people in races that we feel we can really win," Quirk-Garvan says. "That's why we pushed someone hard to be on ballot for the RMC; that's why we pushed Mary Tinkler to file for [state Rep.] Bobby Harrell's seat. For both parties, we're working with limited resources and sort of what's winnable. So in terms of where we pushed, it was in seats that we felt they would be at a minimum competitive, if not win."
Sanford also did not face opposition in this year's Republican primary. He will, however, face an opponent in the general election, write-in candidate Dimitri Cherny. Be sure to pick up the City Paper on Oct. 22 to read candidate profiles of Sanford and Cherny.