Mike Cone loves politics, and it's easy to understand why. An uncle served on Charleston County Council, his grandfather was a state senator, and another uncle was Ninth Circuit Solicitor. With Mike, it seems to be in the blood.
Cone was born and raised in Mt. Pleasant, graduated from the Citadel in 1991 with a degree in political science, did a four-year hitch in the Navy, got his law degree from the University of South Carolina, and returned to Mt. Pleasant to hang out his shingle.
Politically, he's not hard to read. "I'm a liberal, and the liberal party in the United States is Democratic," he said. "Almost everything good this country ever did is liberal." He clicked off some of the great liberal accomplishments of the past 75 years: Social Security, the 40-hour work week, child labor laws, occupational health and safety, Medicare, civil rights, environmental protection.
"As I wrote in a letter to The Post and Courier ... America is inherently liberal. This country is capitalism and Christianity, and those are inherently liberal. Conservatives are just cautious liberals."
Unfortunately, not enough conservatives see it that way. The Democratic Party has seen some lean times in South Carolina in recent years. The party holds only one statewide constitutional office — Jim Rex at the Department of Education.
Last year, when the state Democratic Party was casting about for candidates to challenge Lindsey Graham for the U.S. Senate, there was a thundering silence from the rank and file. Among the party's A-Team, Alex Sanders and Inez Tenenbaum had each lost U.S. Senate races in the past six years, when the two seats were open. Neither wanted to get bloodied again, running against an incumbent. Ditto, former Gov. Jim Hodges, who was thrashed by Mark Sanford in 2002, but salved his wounds by remaking himself into one of the most highly paid lobbyists in Columbia.
In the face of this grim dilemma, Cone did what a good Citadel man is taught to do. He stepped up and volunteered.
It was not a decision he took lightly. As an acute political observer, he knew it would be a long shot. Fellow Democrat Linda Ketner had already staked out the First Congressional District to run against incumbent Henry Brown. There were no offices available and winnable in Mt. Pleasant. And so, he figured, if he was going to make a quixotic run, he might as well think big. Last March, he tossed his proverbial hat into the proverbial ring and declared for Lindsey Graham's Senate seat.
On a certain level, it all made perfectly good sense. The 2006 elections demonstrated that a lot of people were ready for a new direction. Many young Republicans were tired of George W. Bush, and other Republicans were disgusted with Graham. Two-thousand eight could be an outsider's big chance.
What Cone did not count on was the dysfunctional nature of the state Democratic Party. The party has been losing for so long that it has forgotten how to win. That became clear when, on the last day of filing, a mysterious character named Bob Conley walked into the Horry County Registration and Elections Office, signed the papers, and plunked down the filing fee. Suddenly, Mike Cone had a challenger in the June Democratic primary.
Soon it came out that the North Myrtle Beach resident had recently moved from Indiana, where he had run for the state legislature as a Republican, after which, he bolted to the Reform Party. He also had the support of the S.C. Minutemen, a radical right anti-immigrant organization which hardly aligns comfortably with the Democratic Party.
In the face of this political masquerade, the state Democratic Party took the position that it could not favor one candidate over another or interfere in any way in the June primary. Cone and Conley each ran bare-bones, minimalist campaigns. Cone said he spent about $3,000 on bumper stickers and personal travel. He guessed that Conley spent about the same.
On primary day last June, Cone received 73,119 votes to Conley's 74,168. There was an automatic recount, which made it official: state Democrats now have a right-wing nut on their ticket for U.S. Senate, and the state party has egg on its face.
The day after the primary, the Horry County Republican Party released a statement saying that Conley was a member of their executive committee!
I don't know what other Democrats are going to do on Election Day, but I intend to write in Mike Cone for U.S. Senate. And before you ask, the answer is yes, you can write in a name on the new electronic voting machines. Just ask a poll worker how to do it. And after we have shown Cone some love, let's push for a new chairman for this woebegone party.