Sabatos Crystal Ball

South Carolina Races

Senate Outlook for 2008

Can Democrats Take Advantage of the Turf?

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South Carolina

Outlook: Solid Republican

June 18, 2008 Update:

In the June 10th primaries, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham handily defeated his opponent, former Republican National Committeeman Buddy Witherspoon, by a 67-33 margin. The contest for the Democratic nomination was much closer, with pilot Bob Conley apparently edging attorney Michael Cone by fewer than 1,000 votes.

Realistically, Witherspoon was Graham’s biggest hurdle in his path to reelection. Now that he has dispatched Witherspoon, and done so convincingly, he should be all set for November. Democrats have already all but given up on Conley, citing his Republican leanings and lack of electability. Graham should have nothing but smooth seas ahead in the Palmetto State.

April 14, 2008 Update:

In a state as solidly Red as South Carolina, even a Republican can face significant challenges from the right. That’s a lesson incumbent Senator Lindsey Graham is learning firsthand this time around. After emerging as someone willing to step across the aisle and make peace, as he did in joining the Gang of 14 during judicial nomination hearings in 2005, Graham has taken some flak from South Carolina’s more conservative quarters. Graham’s support for the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Reform legislation in 2006 hasn’t helped secure that right flank any, either.

Former RNC committeeman Buddy Witherspoon, though not nearly as well funded as the sitting Senator, will be the biggest obstacle to Graham’s reelection campaign, as the two will face off in the state’s June 10 primary. Graham has taken an interesting tack in approaching the nomination process, airing an ad across South Carolina that features President Bush acknowledging Graham for his support on key Republican issues. While it may seem strange when looking at the President’s approval rating nationwide, it doesn’t when one considers the fact that 81 percent of South Carolina Republicans approve of the job Bush has done. Whoever wins the Republican primary is almost certainly going to win in November. With a campaign war chest with nearly $5 million, and support from his political allies, Graham should be able to pull this one out.


Despite a controversial stand in support of the Bush immigration solution, Lindsey Graham is sitting pretty, as a Republican Senator in a Republican state, with no real Republican challengers. Graham is finishing up his first term in office after replacing the retired Strom Thurmond in 2002. He trounced his opponent in that year’s election, Democrat Alex Sanders, by double-digits. The recent immigration flare-up isn’t Graham’s first tango with trouble during his tenure: Dems accused Graham of having coached Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito before Alito’s confirmation hearings.

The cocaine indictment of Republican state treasurer Thomas Ravenel eliminated what may have been the biggest threat to Graham’s reelection bid. Businessman John Cina has announced he’ll challenge Graham in the GOP primary, and state representative Jeff Duncan is considering entering the race as well. Neither should cause Graham to lose any sleep, yet the overall situation in South Carolina will need Graham’s close attention between now and the Republican Senate primary.


Bob Conley – Democrat – pilot and engineer

Lindsey Graham (I) – Republican – current Senator