BEASLEY VS. MR. X?
With less than two months to go before South Carolina Republicans select their nominee for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, signs are growing strong that the nomination battle among five heavyweight GOPers will eventually have to be decided in a run-off between the top two primary vote-getters, since no one now appears likely to capture a majority. The run-off contenders will be David Beasley and Somebody Else.
According to a just-completed poll by Conquest Communications for Richard Quinn & Associates, former Gov. (1994-98) Beasley is favored by 41.3% of likely GOP primary voters in the Palmetto State, followed by former State Atty. Gen. and losing ’02 gubernatorial hopeful Charles Condon with 15.3%, and three-term Rep. Jim DeMint at 12.9%. Farther in back in the field are Thomas Ravenel, Charleston-area developer and son of former Rep. (1986-94) Arthur Ravenel (R.-S.C.), with 8.9%, and Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride 1.8%. The same survey showed that 47-year-old Beasley would demolish either of the two likely run-off opponents, beating Condon 57.5% to 31.7% and DeMint 57.2% to 25.2%.
A survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for DeMint showed near-identical results: Beasley at 37%, Condon 19%, DeMint 15%, and Ravenel 9%. The Senate nomination to succeed Hollings is considered one of the most coveted prizes for any Republican in the nation since the nominee will be an immediate favorite over the likely Democratic standard-bearer: liberal State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum.
For Beasley, a victory would be a comeback saga worthy of Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton. A decade ago, then-state legislator and Democratic convert Beasley overcame two much-better-known primary opponents and was then elected in the fall as South Carolina’s third GOP governor since Reconstruction. Beasley initially won high marks on the right for honoring his no-new-taxes pledge and standing up to the public education lobby by opposing all-day kindergarten. But he hurt himself, pundits and pols agree, by making a much-publicized reversal of his campaign-year vow to keep the Confederate battle flag flying over the state Capitol. Beasley failed to persuade the legislature to go along on the flag, however, and his sudden change on this emotionally charged issue severely damaged his relationship with fellow statehouse conservatives–notably Condon. The governor’s determined opposition to video poker and calls for a statewide referendum on whether a lottery should be permitted spawned major funding against his 1998 reelection attempt by South Carolina’s well-heeled gaming community.
Fueled by gaming money, his hitherto solid backing among white voters cut in half by his stand on the flag, Beasley lost to little-known state legislator Jim Hodges. His career soon written off as a case of “rise young, rot young,” Beasley returned to law practice, did humanitarian work in Bosnia for a Christian organization, and began making the rounds of service clubs and GOP meetings in much the same way as Nixon and Clinton did after similar political setbacks. The Conquest Communications survey showed Beasley’s name recognized by two-thirds of likely primary voters–somewhat unusual for someone who last won office a decade ago.
As to which of his three leading opponents will meet Beasley in a run-off, it is difficult to say at this point. Condon is also widely known after two winning statewide races and an unsuccessful nomination bid for governor in ’02. But watchers of the former attorney general increasingly question whether he has the staying power for one more primary. DeMint (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 91%) is a hero among conservatives for taking principled stands ranging from sticking to his three-terms-I’m-out pledge to defying the President and becoming one of 25 House Republicans to oppose enactment of the $400 billion-plus prescription drug package last December. Last month, Greenville lawmaker DeMint’s “I’d-rather-be-right” stances (which also include a strong pro-free trade position) were highlighted in a laudatory column by nationally syndicated pundit George Will.
The dark horse among the major contenders is Ravenel, scion of a prominent South Carolina family, who has already invested $1 million of his own exchequer in the race and may put in another $2 million before the primary.
MCCOLLUM UP IN FLORIDA
As in South Carolina, Republican voters in Florida, where venerable Democratic incumbent Bob Graham is retiring and three much lesser-known, liberal Democrats are vying for nomination, seem poised to give their valuable nomination for the Senate seat to the most familiar of their candidates, who also met defeat in his last trip to the polls.
According to a just-completed survey conducted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, former Rep. (1980-2000) Bill McCollum is the strong favorite for nomination to the open Senate seat in the primary this August. Among likely primary voters in the Sunshine State, McCollum–best known nationally as one of the House managers in the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial–lead the five-candidate pack with 33%. He is followed by former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez at 14%, State Sen. Dan Webster 6%, political newcomer and Coral Gables mortgage technology entrepreneur Doug Gallagher 6%, and House Speaker Johnny Byrd 3%. The “wild card” in this field is the latest candidate to get into the race: Gallagher, who has sunk $1.2 million of his own wealth into his first-ever political race. Although he is a political novice, he is the brother of Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher. And many pundits and pols believe that Doug Gallagher may benefit from the residual name recognition among voters of brother Tom, who has been running for various offices (and often winning) for 30 years.
For all the criticism of so-called “experts” that he is “Mr. Yesterday,” that he lacks charisma, and that his defeat in the 2000 Senate race by Democrat Bill Nelson is a sign of vulnerability in the fall, 59-year-old Central Florida lawyer McCollum retains a fiercely loyal following among conservatives throughout the state. His campaign chairman, for example, is possibly the most revered figure in the Florida GOP: former Sen. (1988-2000) Connie Mack. With support from Mack and other conservatives and some name recognition from last year’s race, McCollum, his supporters believe, can top the field of lesser-known candidates in August (when, for the second time in history, Floridians will nominate candidates outright with no run-off).
Since he left the Bush Cabinet last year, former Orange County (Orlando) Chairman Martinez has raised $1.7 million (or about $700,000 more than front-runner McCollum). But Martinez has been forced to play defense over his past history as president of the Florida Trial Lawyers Association–a hotbed of Bush-bashers–and for making donations to a string of Democratic senators ranging from Joseph Biden (Del.) to Florida’s Graham.
Taken increasingly less seriously are veteran legislators Webster and Byrd. The most tangible sign that they are running out of steam and may not even go the distance is that both of their chief political operatives-in-residence have gone elsewhere. Timmy Teepul, who left a position at the Republican National Committee to manage Webster’s campaign, recently relocated to Louisiana to oversee former gubernatorial nominee Bobby Jindal’s race for an open U.S. House district. Seasoned Byrd political operative Todd Harris took a leave last year to work on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s winning gubernatorial campaign and has decided to remain with the new governor’s political team in Sacramento.
DAVIS, DEVOLITES TO FORM COALITION–MARRIAGE
Eyebrows from Capitol Hill to Richmond, Va., were raised recently when House Government Operations Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R.-Va.) and State Sen. JeanMarie DeVolites announced they will be getting married in June. DeVolites has been Davis’s longtime political prot√?∆? ¬©g√?∆? ¬© and, in fact, benefited from the most money Davis raised for any candidate in the Old Dominion last year in her successful bid to move from the House of Delegates to the state senate.
As readersare well-aware, Davis–while not exactly a raging conservative (lifetime ACU rating: 66%)–is nonetheless a longtime Human Events subscriber who, with UNIVAC-like command of election statistics and history, goes immediately to this page and to the “Political I.Q.” quiz. One great enjoyment for the 55-year-old Davis is to spot errors in the I.Q. feature and be the first to phone in a correction. On one occasion, for example, Davis called from the closed-door session at which House GOP Leaders selected committee chairmen to exclaim: “I gotcha this time!” about an error he had spotted.
To this faithful fan, then, this page offers an early “wedding gift:” excluding Davis and his intended, how many present U.S. House members are married to present state legislators? The answer will be here in our next issue.