Hollings' Departure Opens Door for GOP

Democratic Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings of South Carolina, who is 81 years old, has announced he will not seek reelection next year, increasing the odds that the Republicans will add to their 51-to-49 Senate majority.

Veteran conservative North Carolina political consultant Marc Rotterman summed up the situation. “You’ve got three Republicans running in Georgia for [retiring Democrat] Zell Miller’s Senate seat and no well-known Democrat,” he said. “[Republican Rep.] Richard Burr is going so strong in North Carolina that [Democratic Sen.] John Edwards may skip re-election and stick with the presidential race. And now Fritz Hollings opens up an opportunity for Republicans in South Carolina.”

With Hollings gone, South Carolina may become the most solidly Republican state in the union. Last year, it elected Republican Rep. Lindsay Graham to the U.S. Senate, and former Republican Rep. Mark Sanford as governor. It also elected Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature. In 2000, George W. Bush won 57% of the vote in the state.

So far, the two leading candidates for the Republican Senate nomination are three-term Rep. Jim DeMint and former state Atty. Gen. Charles Condon, who placed third in the Republican primary for governor last year. Both are strong conservatives. DeMint (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 91%), who is sticking to a self-imposed term limit in leaving the House, entered the Senate sweepstakes earlier this year with encouragement from the White House. He was one of only 19 Republican House Members to vote against the Medicare prescription drug package. So far, he has raised more than $1 million for the race. Condon has raised nearly $450,000.

As for Democrats, state GOP Executive Director Luke Byars said, “Fritz’s departure means a new turn for them-a left turn.” Indeed, the most talked about possible Democratic contender is two-term state Superintendent of Public Education Inez Tannenbaum. A former lobbyist for the South Carolina Family Research Council, an affiliate of Planned Parenthood, Tannenbaum called last winter for a sales tax increase.