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Consensus Is Building for South Carolina Map

Top Republicans in South Carolina say a map released by the state House Judiciary Subcommittee last week is likely to be close to the final product that gets signed into law.

The Palmetto State gained a seat in reapportionment, and mapmakers have drawn the new 7th district in the growing northeastern part of the state, anchored by the city of Myrtle Beach in the heavily Republican Horry County.

The new Republican-leaning seat was crafted by taking a chunk out of freshman Republican Rep. Tim Scott’s coastal district, along with portions of the districts of Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R) and James Clyburn (D).

In South Carolina, Republicans control the Statehouse and governor’s mansion.

Republicans in the state say the newly proposed map has left House Members mostly happy politically because it hasn’t drawn anyone into a tougher district — including Clyburn, the state’s sole Democratic Member.

Clyburn’s “basically got a district as solid or more than his previous districts and it compacts it a little geographically,” a top South Carolina Republican told Roll Call.

A source close to Clyburn, the Assistant Minority Leader, confirmed that the 10-term Congressman was satisfied with the proposed map being circulated.

“Congressman Clyburn doesn’t have concerns with the process so far, and he expects that the subcommittee plan will pass the full committee and move forward,” the source said.

The Republican-proposed map is similar, in many respects, to a map proposed by Clyburn that is posted on the state House website. In Clyburn’s map, 57 percent of his new district would be black. In the map released by the state House Judiciary Subcommittee, 56 percent of Clyburn’s new district would be black.

But Dick Harpootlian, the colorful and sometimes controversial chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, did not sound as satisfied as Clyburn with the racial makeup of the proposed districts.

“The Republicans in South Carolina play the same old game of racial apartheid,” he said in an interview with Roll Call. “Their idea of reapportionment is to put all the black people in as few districts as possible and bleach out the rest of the districts so that white elected officials don’t have to talk to black people and black elected officials don’t have to talk to white people,” he said, discussing the new Congressional and the new state House district lines.

The map that gets signed into law, however, may not be South Carolina’s final map for the next decade. The state Democratic Party is “95 percent” likely to challenge a similar map with a lawsuit, Harpootlian said. The final map also must be approved by the Justice Department to make sure the new districts comply with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“We believe that we should easily pass Department of Justice or district court muster without too much difficulty,” said state Rep. Alan Clemmons, chairman of the Election Laws Subcommittee.

Under the map being circulated, the new district leans Republican, but Harpootlian was bullish on Democrats’ chances there. The proposed new district would have a black voting age population of 28 percent.

“With [President] Barack Obama on the top of the ticket, we have a chance to generate excitement among Democrats, like we did in ’08,” Harpootlian said. “I think we have a good chance of picking up one, if not two, additional Congressional seats.”

Harpootlian noted that he thought counties such as Horry and Georgetown in the newly drawn 7th district could swing Democratic. But even in the banner Democratic year of 2008, the majority of voters in those counties voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and the prospect that Democrats will make gains in 2012 seems like a tall order.

“The new district could conceivably be described as a swing district, but in reality it’s not” said Will Folks, a libertarian-leaning former political consultant who now runs FITSNews, which he bills as the state’s largest political website. “The fastest-growing part of that district is Republican. It’s going to get more Republican with every election cycle.”

GOP operatives say likely candidates for the new seat include Clemmons, state Rep. Thad Viers, state Sen. Luke Rankin and former Lt. Gov. André Bauer.

Top Republicans in the state, such as longtime consultant Warren Tompkins, don’t see a path to South Carolina having more than one Democrat in its delegation in January 2013.

“Everybody’s been saying there’s going to be a big vote for Obama, but I think equally they’ll be as big a vote on the opposite side,” Tompkins said. “It looks like we ought to have six Republicans and one Democrat when all is said and done.”

But state Democrats, at least at this early stage, say they are unwilling to write it off. “I think the 7th is going to tighter than Republicans think,” said Tyler Jones, a Democratic operative based in Charleston.

One point of contention with the proposed lines will be in the northwestern part of the state, where Greenville County has been split between the 3rd and 4th districts. Freshman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) currently represents all of Greenville County and hopes it will stay that way.

Robert Hughes, Gowdy’s communications director, said the Congressman wanted the new 4th district “to as closely resemble the current Congressional district as legally permissible.”