CofC analyst, professor weighs in on SC political climate, runoff races

By Sam Tyson email | Twitter

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Election cycles rife with ambiguous, difficult-to-prove claims and damning personal attacks may make for good entertainment, but it fails to inform the voters, says a communications professor and political analyst from the College of Charleston.

"I've never seen a primary season quite like this one where all the candidates are talking about marital infidelity with one candidate," said Dr. Brian McGee, speaking on the string of attacks against GOP gubernatorial front-runner Nikki Haley.

Yet, he points out the two remaining GOP candidates are coming at the gubernatorial races from very different places. Haley, he says, is the political outsider who has gained momentum with the Tea Party following. "She is the heir, in many ways, to the Sanford legacy," he said.

Barrett, however, is a veteran member of Congress. "he has the advantage of having those relationships in the federal government and a strong understanding of how the federal government works," said McGee.

McGee did say the run-off race has been much more civil than many political analysts had anticipated.

The gubernatorial race, particularly on the Republican side, was heated in early June after two men stepped forward and claimed affairs with Haley. The first came from a former spokesperson for Gov. Mark Sanford. The second came from a fun-raiser fired from the Andre Bauer campaign just days before the June 8 primary.

Add to that the use of a racial slur in describing both Haley and President Barack Obama and the gubernatorial race leans away from the issues and more toward the obscene side of politics.

Based on her strong lead, it appears as though the voters didn't believe the allegations or didn't care about them, said McGee. That could mean many voters are more focused on whose agenda is more in line with theirs -- for that race, at least.

"Then we get through the first primary round and on the Democratic side we have a very bizarre set of revelations for a nominee for a U.S. Senate seat," McGee said of the Alvin Greene-Vic Rawl race.

In the Democratic U.S. Senate primary, two relative unknowns faced each other and, surprisingly, the man who did least won. Alvin Greene, a military veteran who is currently unemployed and living with his ailing father, managed to trounce his opponent, the seasoned politician Vic Rawl.

"This is just a very strange circumstance where someone who seems unqualified for the position, with all due respect to him, gets a lot of votes," McGee said. "This is another curiosity in a long string of curiosities where South Carolina politics are concerned."

McGee said political analysts would be talking about the Alvin Greene race for a long time  "because we're trying to understand how a person who isn't particularly qualified and didn't run at all got so many votes."

He sides with a poll released just days after Greene's victory that showed Rawl and Greene's name recognition to be nearly equal across the state. In the poll, it was determined that voters, largely unfamiliar with the candidates, just selected the first name on the ballot.

"That's not a proud moment in South Carolina politics; it's not a great thing for the voters to have done that, but it appears in all likelihood what's what happened," McGee said.

The race was compounded by a pending obscenity charge after Greene allegedly showed a University of South Carolina student pornography in a campus computer lab. Scandal replaced issues again and the issues fell to the wayside as the state Democratic party heard an hours-long protest by Rawl. Instead of hearing about Greene's plan for "getting South Carolina back to work" or a unified, democratic Korea, voters heard Rawl's protest and Greene's often-monosyllabic responses to his detractors.

In a race where the two run-off candidates could have provided the most fireworks, the race has been civil and very focused on the issues -- the Congressional 1st District. Both Tim Scott and Paul Thurmond have very similar political philosophies, said McGee, so the potential was there for the two to aggressively distance themselves from each other.

"The son of a former segregationist opposing an African-American for that nomination, but that really hasn't driven that race locally," McGee said. " That race has been substantive on the issues. There has not been a lot of attention paid to that history or to any claims about historical significance."

However, there has not been an African-American Republican member of the House since 2002. And there has not been an African-American Republican member of the House from South Carolina since the era of Reconstruction.

McGee did point to two other state races that are heated, the Lieutenant Governor's race and that Attorney General's race.

In the Attorney General's race, "there have been disputes over who paid for a negative campaign ad," McGee said. He said the two candidates, Alan Wilson and Leighton Lord, are also making attacks on the other candidate's history.

The Lieutenant Governor's race has turned into a battle to declare who is more conservative than whom. McGee said the debate is one that rages inside the GOP, where some members of the party accuse others of joining the Republican party to get elected, but don't share the political philosophies of the party.

It's about being more conservative instead of just being Republican, said McGee. "If you can claim the mantle of a true conservative, you're going to do it," he said.

"The things we've been talking about have been fascinating, terrifying in some cases; they've been discouraging in others, but what they don't do is help the voters make good decisions on the issues," McGee said.

Copyright 2010 WCSC. All rights reserved.