Elections across the country have taken a different turn this election this year. Well established GOP candidates with traditional GOP values are getting ousted by non-traditional candidates supported by grassroots groups such as 'Tea Party' activists. In Utah, incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett was ousted during the state's Republican convention in favor of two more conservative candidates. In Nevada and Maine, Tea Party-preferred candidates beat back more establishment favorites for in primary races for Senate and governor races respectively.
In South Carolina, however, the contest for the upcoming runoff primary in the state's first congressional district has turned into conservative versus conservative for candidates Tim Scott and Paul Thurmond.
Scott is the charismatic "new guy on the block," the first black Republican to run for congressional office since Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla) retired in 2003 and South Carolina's first black Republican congressman since the Reconstruction. Scott also has more than four times the experience as Thurmond, but lacks the connections that Thurmond inherited from his late father, Strom Thurmond, who was a U.S. senator from the state for more than fifty years, from the civil rights era to the aftermath of Sept. 11.
In the June 8 primary, Scott acquired the highest percentage, 31, while Thurmond had 16 and the remaining percentages were dispersed among 7 other congressional hopefuls. Neither attained the majority vote needed for the nomination, leaving republicans to return for the June 22 runoff race.
Scott took the lead in the polls in late May, striding from earlier polls projecting Carroll Campbell III to win the majority. The poll conducted by National Research and sponsored by S.C. Club for Growth, found that Scott was projected to receive 30 percent of the vote and Thurmond come in third with only 9 percent. The same poll projected Scott to easily outdistance competitors should there be a runoff race.
Scott received a key endorsement from the Club for Growth in March, months before he was projected to win 30 percent of the primary votes. The club granted him campaign funding and is a prestigious organization among conservatives.
Scott also garnered endorsments from top GOP members including House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va), and National Republican Congressional committee Chairman Kevin McCarthy (R-Calfi.) who each sent $5,000 to contribute to his campaign. And more recently from former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin endorsed him via Facebook and Karl Rove sent his support through monetary funds.
Although Thurmond has his name recognition to entice voters, he has not received the same caliber of endorsements as Scott. Four of the former GOP hopefuls for the race lent their support including Carroll Campbell, Stovall Witte, Ken Glasson and Clark Parker, as well as some retired congressmen.
While Scott is projected to win in various polls, Thurmond has been fighting to convert voters. He has traveled the district and campaigned with former GOP candidates and announced their support at fundraisers, such as Carroll Campbell, Stovall Witte, Ken Glasson and Clark Parker. Because Thurmond has more connections in Washington and will, he hopes, gain voters from the majority of the seven other candidates who ran in the June 8 primary, some predict Thurmond to overtake Scott in the runoff.
Scott runs as a “principle man,” focusing on the Obama administration's "outrageous" spending habits, promising he would overturn the newly passed health care reform bill and work to grant states more abilities to enforce current immigration laws.
Although Thurmond has the established name, Scott hones in on his experience working within the state legislature and describes the various bills he has helped to pass in South Carolina legislature. Thurmond, in contrast, touts his role as a family man and describes himself as a "conservative problem solver" more than hammering issues. Although in his commercials he tells voters "It's not the name," Thurmond repeatedly mentions his father's long legacy as South Carolina's senator.
Thurmond’s father, once a strong segregationist, led the longest filibuster to date, 24 hours and 18 minutes, against the civil rights bill of 1957 and began his career as a Democrat. Despite the historic and racial history of both hopefuls, race, interestingly, has not been an issue at all in the campaigns for the two vying the GOP spot. Instead the candidates have focused on their resumes and the issues.
"My father said that the future is more important than the past," Scott said in an Associated Press interview. "We should be appreciative of our heritage but at the end of the day it's more about tomorrow — can America sustain $13 trillion in deficit?"
Paul Thurmond concurred, saying, "It's not about the color of our skin — it's about our background and our message. Tim has not run on the color of his skin and I have not run on my father's name," although some would argue with the latter statement.
Both candidates court conservative appeal by with their conservative record on social issues. Scott, however, took a tougher stance on immigration, by supporting Arizona’s most recent venture into immigration reform.
Comparatively Thurmond did not treat immigration as a notable issue in his campaign. He believes the current immigrations laws are effective, but need to be better enforced, according to his campaign website.
The issue of tax reform and South Carolina’s failing job market is also a high priority on voters’ minds. South Carolina has the sixth highest unemployment rate in the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which released the poll in April. Both candidates campaigned to downsize the federal government’s regulation in the private sector and reducing taxes, but neither candidate earned the support of the Tea Party movement.
The first district congressional seat is generally considered a safe Republican seat, as a Democrat has not won the position in almost 30 years, since 1981. The two hopefuls are competing for Rep. Henry Brown's (R) seat in the House of Representatives and will face Ben Frasier (D) in the November election.