Nikki Haley won the Republican nomination for governor of South Carolina on Tuesday while other GOP candidates in the state won as "outsiders."
In two of the three Republican run-offs for open U.S. House districts, candidates who ran as conservative “outsiders” defeated opponents perceived as more moderate “establishment” Republicans. Rep. Bob Inglis was defeated for renomination in the 4th District after his votes and actions upset conservatives, and anti-spending conservative Tim Scott, an African-American, in the 1st District, defeated the son of GOP legend, the late Sen. Strom Thurmond.
Challenger Trey Gowdy rolled up 71% of the vote against six-termer Inglis and Scott won 74% of the vote against Paul Thurmond.
Only in the 3rd District were the results less than clear cut. Richard Cash, owner of a fleet of ice cream trucks and pro-life leader, led State Rep. Jeff Duncan in the initial primary. Last night, however, Duncan bounced back and apparently won the run-off with 51% of the vote. Where Cash was the outsider and favorite of cultural conservatives, Duncan nonetheless had good conservative credentials of his own. As a legislator, he had sponsored pro-gun measures and tough bills dealing with illegal immigration.
To no one’s surprise, 38-year-old State Rep. Haley won the gubernatorial runoff by a margin of nearly 2-to-1 over Rep. Gresham Barrett. In many ways, their contest was also symbolic of the trend in GOP primaries this year of “outsiders” overcoming “the establishment.” Haley, who had the least experience in office (and the smallest campaign kitty) of any of the four GOP hopefuls in the initial primary earlier this month, won last night through the backing of younger voters and the Tea Party movement. Barrett had the backing of the state Chamber of Commerce and much of the business community.
Haley is now the strong favorite to defeat Democratic State Sen. Vincent Sheehan this fall to succeed lameduck Gov. Mark Sanford.
The Inglis Lesson—And a Good Night for Joe Wilson
In the 4th District, six-term Rep. Bob Inglis became the third U.S. House member this year to lose renomination. Inglis lost by overwhelmingly to Spartanburg County Prosecutor Trey Gowdy, who astonished local pols by leading Inglis in the initial primary by 39% to 27%.
In an interview with HUMAN EVENTS before the voting, Gowdy cited key votes of Inglis that, the incumbent’s overall voting record notwithstanding (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 93.45%), clearly hurt him with his base: voting for TARP money, against the troop surge in Iraq, and introducing a carbon tax bill which he said was revenue neutral and would provide tax credits to businesses. As Gowdy told me, “He could argue it was not a tax but just by introducing it, he was buying into the whole science of global warming and climate control. And that’s bad news to the conservative activists.”
Gowdy and everyone else involved in the 4th District race agreed that Inglis especially angred conservative GOP voters by being one of the seven House Republicans to vote for a rebuke of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) during his now-celebrated shout of “You lie!” during an address to Congress by President Obama. (Wilson, a strong favorite for re-election, had an especially happy evening as his son, Alan Wilson, won the Republican nomination for attorney general; the younger Wilson rolled up 58% of the vote over wealthy attorney Leighton Lord).
Scott Ran to Right of Thurmond
The national press read much into the fact that Republicans in South Carolina’s 1st District overwhelmingly nominated State Rep. Tim Scott, an African-American, over attorney Paul Thurmond, son of the legendary Sen. Strom Thurmond, whose early political rise was as a champion of segregation.
Actually, the black-beats-Thurmond’s son “spin” means relatively little. Paul Thurmond was born when his father was 73—years after he had abandoned his segregationist roots and began supporting measures favored by the black community, ranging from D.C. statehood to the Voting Rights Act (and putting a number of blacks on his Senate staff).
The real story that received little notice in the media was that Scott actually ran to the right of young Thurmond on the issue of government spending, easily the critical issue to conservative activists in 2010. Where Thurmond backed federal dollars for the defense industry-heavy district (Charleston) and supported the practice of earmarks, Scott denounced earmarks as “corrupt” and vowed to cut federal spending. As a result, Scott had the backing of much of the local Tea Party movement and the Club for Growth, as well as the endorsement of Sarah Palin.
Even close friends of the Thurmond family said that the urge to send an African-American Republican to Congress transcended the fondness voters had for the late senator, who died seven years ago at age 100. In a district that has been firmly in Republican hands for three decades, Scott appears certain to become the first black Republican House member since Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.) retired in 2002 and the fourth black GOP House member since the Great Depression.
North Carolina—Keep Your Eye Kissell and Etheridge
The only statewide run-off in North Carolina last night was that to determine the Democratic opponent to Sen. Richard Burr. To the surprise of few, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who led in the initial primary, handily won the nomination.
Most Tarheel State GOPers I talked to feel “cautiously optimistic” that Burr (who won his first term six years ago over former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles) will have a relatively easy time with the liberal Marshall.
In addition, the same Republicans voiced optimism about their candidates gaining two new House districts in North Carolina by unseating Democratic Reps. Larry Kissell and Bobby Etheridge.
That all Republican-held districts in North Carolina seem certain to re-elect incumbent House members while Democrats are playing defense in two of their districts is a further sign that Republicans could well take the House this fall.
Last night, former TV sportscaster (and four-time Emmy winner) Harold Johnson won the GOP nod to oppose Kissell in the 8th District. Johnson, a local celebrity universally nicknamed “The Big Guy,” won 61% of the vote over the millionaire businessman Tim D’Annunzio. Johnson’s candidacy is being watched nationally because of a parting Kissell has had with his party’s left after opposing the Obama-backed healthcare bill. The AFL-CIO has been particularly critical of the Democratic freshman for that one vote and several in labor have hinted they would not back Kissell. Kissell once blogged regularly for the Daily Kos but stopped his blogging for the left-wing website last year.
Johnson has already hit Kissell from the right, denouncing his vote for the stimulus package and for voting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi 96% of the time.
In the 2nd District (Eastern North Carolina), where sixteen-year Rep. Etheridge has long coasted to re-election, the political picture changed dramatically following the congressman’s much-publicized assault of a videographer asking him a question. The Republican nominee, nurse Renee Ellmers, saw her political capital skyrocket overnight and a just-completed Survey USA poll shows her leading Etheridge by a margin of 39% to 38% districtwide.
Utah’s Lee the Leader—for Conservatives
One of the most significant victories for anti-government conservatives anywhere took place in Utah last night, as lawyer and first time candidate Mike Lee won the Republican nomination that is tantamount to election to the Senate.
Put in terms of national politics, Lee’s triumph demonstrated that, among the GOP’s proverbial “grass-roots,” a message of constitutionalism and small government not only resonates, but packs a wallop.
In defeating businessman Tim Bridgewater, Lee—son of Rex Lee, Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general—completed the process begun earlier this year when three-term Sen. Robert F. Bennett was eliminated from competition at the Utah GOP’s state convention. In rejecting Bennett because of a few non-conservative votes he cast, party activists advanced Bridgewater and Lee to the primary process.
In many ways, both candidates were similar. Neither had held elective office before and both Bridgewater and Lee criticized Bennett for supporting the financial bailout and offering an alternative healthcare measure with liberal Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.).
But it was Lee who won over most of the Tea Party groups, as well as many national conservatives such as Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.).
Freely admitting that he had not been active in politics until he became a Senate candidate, Lee recalled to me earlier this year that “I began speaking around the state about Supreme Court decisions and their impact on expanding the reach of government.” The response he received to those speeches, Lee said, led him to run for the Senate. In this race, he took some strong stands including support for abolishing the Department of Education and other federal agencies and opposing a proposal to lift the liability cap on BP from the present $75 million to $10 billion.
In the end, a strong message based on limited government and adherence to the Constitution was enough to rally the grass-roots and make Mike Lee a near-certainty to go to the Senate this fall—as a conservative leader.