In the week after Jon Stewart declared the Palmetto State to be America's whoopee cushion, South Carolina returned to the polls to complete what it had started two weeks earlier in the Democratic and Republican primaries. All things considered, I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well. Nobody made fools of themselves; no phantom candidates appeared to steal a nomination. Now let's sort out what it all means.
Nikki Haley surprised no one (except maybe Gresham Barrett) in walking away with the GOP gubernatorial nomination last Tuesday night. She took 49 percent of the vote two weeks earlier to Barrett's 22 percent. Still, Barrett insisted on a runoff, and he got what he deserved: thrashed by a 2-to-1 margin.
The ugliness of the four-way GOP gubernatorial race, including two unsubstantiated charges of adultery and a racial slur against Haley — all by fellow Republicans — has sickened many observers, giving Democrat Vincent Sheheen a serious chance in November.
Haley is a teabagger (endorsed by Sarah Palin, no less) and calls herself a reformer. But like Mark Sanford, another "reformer," she is a belligerent, self-righteous loner who does not work well with her colleagues in the General Assembly. Andy Brack, of the liberal-leaning Statehouse Report, calls her "Mark Sanford in drag." If Haley wins in November, we can probably look forward to eight more years of acrimony and deadlock between the General Assembly and the governor.
The big surprise of the evening was Tim Scott's taking 74 percent of the vote against Paul Thurmond, son of the late and legendary Strom Thurmond, for the 1st District Congressional seat. I honestly did not know which way this one was going to fall. Scott, of course, is black and stands a breath away from becoming the only black GOPer in Congress. (His token Democratic Party opponent is the mysterious Ben Frasier.)
After the first round of voting, several of Scott's white opponents lined up to endorse Thurmond, and I thought the fix was in. But the national Republican Party clearly wanted Scott to win the nomination. GOP stars Palin and Mike Huckabee endorsed him; the Club for Growth invested $54,000 in him. Apparently, the voters of the 1st District liked the plan and got on board.
It seems that Scott was everybody's second choice. Thurmond received only a slightly larger percentage of the vote in round two than he received two weeks earlier. Supporters of the seven candidates eliminated in round one fell in behind Scott and will send him to Washington.
Television ads in the two weeks before the runoff were just plain surreal. Several candidates were running against President Obama and barely mentioned their actual opponents. Others insisted on running with their wives and children as proof of their family-values purity. After the Mark Sanford debacle, I would have thought that such a charade would be discredited forever. And how many times did you hear some candidate declare himself (or herself) to be the "true conservative," the "real conservative," the "most conservative?" After generations of this rhetoric, you would think South Carolinians would be ready to try something new. Conservatism has clearly failed; this state has two wheels in the ditch, and, yes, we are America's whoopee cushion. But we keep falling for the same rhetoric and the same politicians. South Carolina is incapable of learning from history. And therein lies the pathology of Palmetto State politics.
Perhaps the greatest benefit we will see from this election cycle will be the end of the political blog FITSNews and its creator, Will Folks. For the past five years, this egomaniac has boasted of the veracity of his blog, while many of us in the media were openly skeptical. He has passed along salacious rumors and gossip, with the justification that if someone else said it, he was justified in repeating it.
Combining frat boy humor and braggadocio with a priggish obsession with other people's sex lives and sexual orientation, he describes his blog as "unfair and imbalanced ... opining from a decidedly libertarian perspective."
Folks is a former spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford. The FITSNews editor left the governor's employ shortly after being charged with domestic abuse. Folks later pled guilty.
A couple of weeks before the first round of primaries, Folks came forward to say that he had an affair with Nikki Haley. He was a cad for doing it. The fact that very few voters actually believed him suggests that he is also a fool. With his credentials so tarnished, maybe Folks will do us all a favor and move on. South Carolina would be a better place without him.
See Will Moredock's blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blog/thegoodfight.