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History, And Symbolism, In South Carolina's Scott Vs. Thurmond Runoff

Jun 21, 2010

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Take some history, add a little irony, and you have the ingredients for Tuesday's Republican runoff in South Carolina's First Congressional District.

There is, to be sure, far more than just symbolism in the race to succeed retiring GOP incumbent Henry Brown.  But when you have the son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond squaring off against South Carolina's first black Republican state legislator in a century, it's a script that basically writes itself.

Let me interrupt myself for a second.  Whenever I write a "first woman" or "first black" type of post, I often get criticized by readers who complain I focus less on what the candidates stand for and more on their race or gender.  I concede there is some truth to that.  I often do present politics on this blog in a horse-race, winner/loser, "remember when," political junkie kind of way, sort of like the way one covers sports.  But as a political junkie, I think it's important when history is about to be made.  Perhaps, when the number of women and minorities in office are commensurate with their numbers in the population, I'll stop focusing on that stuff.  But until then ...

OK, back to South Carolina's 1st CD.  The black state lawmaker, Tim Scott, finished a strong first in the initial June 8 primary, followed by Paul Thurmond, a Charleston County councilman, and then Carroll Campbell III, son of the late governor.  Scott received 32 percent of the vote, more than double what Thurmond got.  But because no one eclipsed the 50 percent threshold, a runoff on Tuesday will determine the GOP nominee — and probably the next congressman, given the strong Republican makeup of the district.

Both Scott and Thurmond are conservative — both want to repeal the Obama health care bill, for example — but Scott has the backing of the Club for Growth, which has spent about $54,000 on his behalf since June 8.  Hastings Wyman, who publishes the Southern Political Report, quotes an unnamed Thurmond supporter who senses that some of the conservatives and conservative groups that are backing Scott are "motivated almost entirely by a desire to have an African-American Republican serving in Congress, thus helping the GOP's national image, rather than by a careful comparison of the two candidates' records."

Wyman, like most observers, says that Scott is the favorite in the Tuesday runoff, but he's "not a lead-pipe cinch."  Young Campbell, for example, has endorsed Thurmond.  But either candidate "will be a prohibitive favorite in November, given the extreme weakness of the Democratic nominee," perennial candidate Ben Frasier.  Frasier, who is African-American, has run and lost 17 times before this year, when he defeated the Democratic establishment's choice, Air Force veteran Robert Burton, in the June 8 primary.

Why does this sound familiar?

Paging Alvin Greene.

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