A House Republican exiting a sinking ship? 

Republican Congressman Henry Brown of the 1st district of South Carolina has announced that he will not run for reelection this year. Does this indicate a generic weakness for Republicans this year? I don’t think so. Brown, who turned 74 last month, won his fifth term in November 2008 by a narrow 52%-48% margin over Food Lion heiress Linda Ketner, and he had announced primary opposition this year from Carroll Campbell III, son of the late former Governor Carroll Campbell, the dominant figure in South Carolina Republican politics from his first election as governor in 1986 until 1998, when his protege and successor David Beasley was defeated for reelection.

The data suggest that Brown was an underperforming incumbent, and that if he was exiting a sinking ship it was a personal rather than a party vessel. In 2008 he won 52% of the vote, significantly behind John McCain’s 56% in his district. In contrast, South Carolina’s three other incumbent Republican House members ran even with McCain or 1% ahead in their districts. In addition, there was a surge in turnout in 2008 in this district 20% of whose residents are black; I suspect this represents an outpouring of support for Barack Obama which will probably not be replicated in 2010. Given the shift of opinion in the last 12 months, it seems unlikely that Democrats have a serious chance of picking up a district that voted 56%-42% for McCain 14 months ago.

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Michael Barone

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