South Carolina is one of the most Republican states in the country, but picking a successor to Governor Mark Sanford is going to be a tricky business for the party. Next year's primary has drawn a large field of contenders, but none has captured the support of the party's regional and ideological factions. "We have a situation here where we have candidates with a decent following," says GOP consultant Chip Felkel, "but there's certainly not a consensus around any one candidate."
Party activists and voters remain uncertain about Andre Bauer, the sitting lieutenant governor, largely because of his reputation for recklessness following incidents involving high-speed driving and a plane crash. At the peak of the scandal surrounding Sanford's international affair, there was talk that, if the state had a different lieutenant governor, Sanford somehow would have been shown the door.
Yet no one is counting Bauer out next year. "Everybody's always been embarrassed by Andre Bauer," says Furman University political scientist James Guth, "and he keeps on winning elections."
Bauer's main competition will be state Attorney General Henry McMaster and Congressman Gresham Barrett. McMaster has raised a considerable war chest but none of his initiatives has captured the public's imagination. He has drawn some heat from conservatives for consorting with known moderates such as Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. Similarly, Barrett is getting boos from some quarters for having supported a version of the financial-sector bailout last fall. Barrett's fundraising has picked up recently, helped in part by his being out of the state during the Sanford affair.
Democrats are nursing hopes that a contentious Republican primary, coupled with the GOP's current problems--besides the Sanford affair, two Republican statewide officeholders have been jailed in recent years--will give them an opening. Their frontrunner is state Senator Vincent Sheheen, but other Democrats are sounding the waters in the wake of the Sanford mess. "The shine is off the Republican brand," says Dick Harpootlian, a former state Democratic chair. Recent polling suggests he's right: Republicans appear to be losing some support. But given South Carolina's conservative inclinations, the governorship still remains the GOP's to lose./p>