Skip to content

South Carolina Republicans Will Have to Ride the Bench

For a state whose politics have been famously compared to an insane asylum, the outlook for the South Carolina congressional delegation is remarkably stable.

Both senators are favored for re-election in 2014, and the House delegation — six Republicans and one Democrat — are all representing safe districts.

Much of the delegation’s security can be sourced to redistricting and a recent round of turnover at the House and Senate levels. And it likely leaves ambitious, up-and-coming politicians without an avenue to Capitol Hill for the foreseeable future.

“South Carolina has a pretty deep bench of Republican talent, but if this were a sporting event, those guys are going to be riding pine for a while,” said Joel Sawyer, a South Carolina-based GOP consultant. “Our delegation isn’t going anywhere.”

The only member who even remotely registers on retirement lists is the dean of the delegation, 73-year-old House Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn. Still, state Democrats strongly pushed back against any retirement talk.

“There’s probably an even dozen of African-American men and women who see themselves as Clyburn’s successor,” said Dick Harpootlian, a former state Democratic Party chairman. “They’re young African-Americans now, but they may be old African-Americans by the time he retires.”

When pressed, Democrats named state Reps. Gilda Cobb-Hunter and Bakari T. Sellers; Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin; state Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison, who is a former Clyburn aide; and Senate candidate Rick Wade as possible Clyburn political heirs in the only district worth watching for the party.

A bigger challenge for Democrats is grooming statewide talent.

Operatives from both parties suggested that financier Darla Moore could one day run for Senate. She is seen as politically savvy — so much so that her political affiliation is unclear. Moore achieved international fame when she and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were the first women granted membership to the Augusta National Golf Club.

Thanks to former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint’s 2013 resignation, there will be two Senate races on the ballot this year. DeMint’s appointed successor, Sen. Tim Scott, is perhaps the state’s brightest Republican star. His ascent was a quick one: In two years he won a House seat and moved onto the Senate by way of gubernatorial appointment.

Scott’s wattage is so strong he is running unchallenged for the GOP nod in a seat rated Safe Republican by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call. Instead, a handful of challengers are taking on two-term Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. At this point, Graham isn’t nearly as vulnerable as he appeared at the outset of the cycle.

If an open Senate seat does materialize one day, a handful of ambitious Republicans are expected to give the race a look. From within the delegation, South Carolina Republicans bet that Reps. Mick Mulvaney, Jeff Duncan and Mark Sanford would all seriously consider a run. Beyond the House, Republicans said state Sen. Tom Davis, state Treasurer Curtis Loftis and state Attorney General Alan Wilson (son of 2nd District Rep. Joe Wilson) have Senate potential.

The Republican House delegation is largely new — all but Wilson were elected to office in 2010 or later. If a vacancy occurs in the near future, it will be unexpected.

Still, GOP operatives said state Sens. Larry Grooms, Paul Thurmond and Davis would be contenders if Sanford ever left office. Thurmond, the son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, lost to Scott in the open 1st District primary in 2010. Likewise, Grooms unsuccessfully challenged Sanford for the GOP nomination in that district’s 2013 special.

Loftis is a possible successor to Joe Wilson’s 2nd District, and state Sen. Shane Massey could one day succeed Duncan in the 3rd District.

If Mulvaney left or ran for higher office, state Reps. Tommy Pope and Ralph Norman are potential 5th District contenders. Pope achieved national fame in the mid-1990s when he prosecuted Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman who was convicted in 1995 of drowning her two children.

Farm Team is a weekly state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.

Recent Stories

McCarthy promises ‘punishment’ over Bowman fire alarm before vote

Shutdown averted as Biden signs seven-week spending bill

Stopgap funding bills hung up in both chambers

Who are the House Republicans who opposed the stopgap budget bill?

Taking it to the limit — Congressional Hits and Misses

Feinstein broke glass ceilings during decades of Judiciary Committee work