By Lachlan McIntosh

Buoyed by Democratic wins around the country including in red states like Oklahoma, South Carolina Democrats are showing signs of life for the first time in years.

President Trump’s bizarre and deeply troubling reign has energized Democrats and independents in opposition to outvote Republicans in 2017 elections from coast to coast. Republicans, while unnervingly still supportive of Trump overall, are clearly losing their enthusiasm by choosing to stay at home rather than vote.

Nothing matters in non-presidential election years more than intensity of support. 2018 is a non-presidential year and, at least right now, Democrats are much more enthusiastic about voting than Republicans. Should the trend continue, the GOP could well lose control of the U.S. House and lose more governors’ seats and state legislatures. Republicans may keep control of the U.S. Senate, but that has more to do with math and the sheer numbers of Democratic incumbents facing tough races than the mood of the electorate.

So, can Palmetto Democrats, who haven’t won a statewide race in more than11 years, actually win big races next year?

Perhaps.

In June, South Carolina Democrats lost the special election to fill the Fifth Congressional District by a mere three points. Only months earlier, Trump carried the district by more than 20 points. For the most part, theses weren’t Republicans changing their voting habits, it was Republicans staying at home and Democrats and independents voting in disproportionally larger numbers. The Fifth’s demographics are very similar to the state overall. South Carolina is strong Republican state, but nowhere near the same ballpark as states like Idaho, Wyoming or even Alabama. Former President Obama received 45 percent and 44 percent of the vote here, Hillary Clinton received 41 percent. Subsequently there is a strong enough Democratic base to flip the narrative under exactly the right circumstances. This means a depressed GOP turnout, an extremely excited Democratic turnout all combined with a swing of support to Democrats by independent voters and a few moderate Republicans.

State Democrats can’t control what happens nationally, which will ultimately dictate if this scenario plays out. They can’t make the wave happen, but they can be prepared for one if it comes.

State Representative James Smith of Columbia will likely be the Democratic nominee for governor. Smith is veteran of the Afghanistan War where he earned a Purple Heart. He’s considered this run in the past, but (finally) pulled the trigger a couple months ago. Smith could prove to be a strong candidate who could more than ride the wave, but he has a tall fundraising task as the state’s traditional Democratic donor base has significantly withered over the years.

On the other hand, Republican candidates for governor face the challenge of walking the tightrope in showing support for Trump to win primary voters, but not run off general election voters in the fall.

On the statewide level, other than governor, Democrats will likely focus their attention on attorney general where incumbent Alan Wilson could be vulnerable as his political allies and friends continue to be indicted in the most recent ethics probe. Allegedly, to protect his cohorts, Wilson attempted to have special prosecutor David Pascoe fired to cripple the investigation. The state Supreme Court had to intervene. Pascoe’s probe is still ongoing.

The Democrats nominee in this year’s Fifth District race, Archie Parnell is taking another shot at it next year. Democrats have a very promising candidate to run against Mark Sanford in the First District in Joe Cunningham, a political newcomer who has shown fundraising success and social media savvy. The First District proved to be Trump’s weakest of the six he carried, mainly due to the suburban, more educated make-up of the Lowcountry based district. Sanford also faces a stern test from the right in the Republican Primary. Democrats are also expected to focus on the Seventh District, which stretches from Myrtle Beach to Chesterfield County in the Pee Dee. The seventh is considered the second most-Democratic district in the state (the Sixth Congressional District being the first) by many observers. Currently, though, Democrats don’t have a viable candidate for this seat.

Due to the prolonged weakness of the state party on many levels, it may prove to be an insurmountable challenge for Democrats to build a competitive slate up and down the ticket.

Locally, in Charleston County, look for Democrats to pick up county offices like RMC and probate judge. Charleston County continues to trend Democratic, wave year or not.

As laid out, 2018 could be a comeback year for Democrats here. But conventional wisdom has been turned on its head and predictions have proven as useless as an outfield in little league during the Trump era. One thing is for sure: It won’t be boring.

As Trump often creepily tweets to publicize his upcoming TV appearances: Enjoy!

 

Lachlan McIntosh is a political consultant based in Charleston. He consults for Democratic and independent candidates throughout the country. He is a former executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party and aid to Governor Jim Hodges. www.mcintoshconsultingllc.com.

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