Governor Gearing Up September 4, 2007Posted by fitsnews in SC Politics.
SANFORD FOCUSING ON HIS “THIRD CAMPAIGN”
FITSNews – September 4, 2007 – Ask S.C. legislators and they’ll tell you Gov. Mark Sanford has been running against them for years – practically from his first day in office. Of course what’s ironic about that widely-held belief is that during the last two election cycles, Sanford has been chronicallly unwilling or unable to directly campaign against his big-spending antagonists in the General Assembly, employing a minimalist strategy that has actually helped embolden the forces arrayed against him in the Palmetto political “echo chamber.”
A classic case of all bark and no bite, Sanford has toted his charts and graphs into a sitting legislator’s district upon occasion, to be sure, but unless you were a detective with a decoder ring (and an unhealthy interest in the intricacies of the state budget), discerning what he was actually saying about that individual legislator’s record was damn near impossible. Adept at driving up the negative perception of the General Assembly as an institution, Sanford has invariably pulled up short in taking the necessary “next step” of singling legislators out as individuals – and actively campaigning for their opponents. Instead of the bold decisiveness of Dirty Harry, Sanford instead opted for the intellectual high road of an economics professor.
A perfect example is the case of Sen. John Hawkins of Spartanburg. In 2004, Sanford was less than two hours away from holding a rare campaign press conference to call Hawkins out in his own district when the Senator telephoned him personally and begged him not to come. Promising to support the governor if he refrained from campaigning against him, Hawkins said he had “seen the light” and succeeded in convincing Sanford to cancel the event. Days later, it paid off when he squeaked out a thirty-vote win in one of the closest Senate primaries in state history.
Of course after the election, Hawkins immediately flipped back to his status quo ways and started sticking it to the Sanford agenda once again.
Reticent enough when it came to doing one-on-one battle with sitting legislators, more importantly the governor’s behind puckered up tighter than a snare drum when it came to raising money for legitimate legislative challengers. In both the 2004 and 2006 election cycles, the notoriously miserly Sanford wasn’t about to divert any fundraising efforts away from his own 2006 campaign, despite the fact that he won reelection in a landslide – with close to $2 million left in the bank.
Seeing that Sanford was unwilling to go one-on-one with them in their districts, legislators became even more resolute in their resistance to the governor and more entrenched in their opposition to his proposals. They also used Sanford’s maverick reputation, frequent political stunts and numerous strategic gaffes against him, effectively pinning the blame for the “failed relationship” between the GOP-controlled legislative and executive branches back on the governor.
But it wasn’t a failed relationship – it was (and is) a war of competing ideologies. And for all their short-sightedness on practically every other front, legislators have understood this dynamic for years. Sanford, continuing to spin his wheels, simply never got it.
Until now, that is.
After five consecutive sessions of watching his legislative and budget priorities get flushed down the toilet, Sanford appears to have finally grasped the fact that getting things done in Columbia at this point is a zero sum game, and that the only language individual Senators and House members will ever understand is the political equivalent of a loaded gun pointed at their heads … with an itchy finger at the trigger.
While the public theatrics of the recent Treasurer’s race and Budget and Control Board fight have grabbed the headlines, the much bigger story is that Sanford has entered full-fledged campaign mode again less than a year after his own reelection win.
With $1.8 million remaining in his campaign account, Sanford is devoting significant chunks of his time lately to raising additional dollars so that legitimate challenges can be launched against some of his most diehard legislative enemies. In fact, Sanford could raise another $2-3 million between now and the June 2008 Republican primaries for what some State House insiders are already referring to as his “third campaign.”
The governor is also rumored to be helping recruit prospective challengers personally, in addition to calling on outside help in the form of various national-level politicians who share his fiscally conservative beliefs.
The case to be made against the good ole boy politicians is fairly self-evident.
South Carolina’s Republican legislative majority has increased state spending by 41% over the last three years, failed to provide anything even remotely resembling substantive tax relief, preserved the state’s woefully outdated and inefficient government structure at every turn and appointed Democrats to both the State Supreme Court and the State Budget and Control Board.
They’ve also poured billions into failed education and health care delivery systems while at the same time resisting market-based reforms that have proven effective in other states.
All the while our state’s already-anemic income levels have fallen even further behind our national and Southeastern peers, and our state’s unemployment rate remains among the nation’s highest. Our public schools remain dead last in the nation and nearly 40% of our obese, disease-ridden adult population is either uninsured or on Medicaid.
In short, the case for change has never been stronger, and while it remains to be seen what form Sanford’s 2008 operation will take (and which legislators he will target), it’s clear that the governor is finally gearing up for a real fight.
As was the case in 2004, every single State House and State Senate seat is up for grabs in 2008. In some of those districts, Sanford’s approval ratings remain stratospheric, meaning that openly opposing him would be to court political suicide. In other districts, legislators like Rep. Annette Young and Sen. Jake Knotts are facing problems of their own making.
Still others are abandoning their seats altogether before the first shots in this new battle are even fired.
Sen. Hawkins, for example, has already seen the writing on the wall and announced that he will not seek reelection in 2008. Sen. Phil Leventis of Sumter, who like Hawkins won reelection in 2004 by his fingernails, is also rumored to be considering resigning after the 2008 session.
Sanford’s challenge is how to best leverage his cash and popularity to achieve the maximum legislative impact, knowing that local races pose a distinctly different set of challenges than the Congressional and statewide campaigns he has proven so adept at running. The governor has been conditioned to fight an air war, relying heavily on TV to spread his message, but State House and State Senate races are ground wars – relying primarily on grassroots coordination, telephone banks, direct mail and get out the vote efforts to achieve victory.
Needless to say, we’ll be keeping a close eye on this brewing battle in the weeks and months to come …