Sabato's Crystal Ball

South Carolina Senate 2004

Republican Jim DeMint faces Democrat Inez Tenenbaum

UVA Center for Politics October 22nd, 2004

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With the retirement of Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, the Republican Party has been poised to take this seat in one of the most conservative states in the union. After a tight primary that led to a runoff, the ball was handed to Representative Jim DeMint and the field was wide open. However, before reaching the end zone, DeMint has stumbled a few times on his own words; the question is whether or not his Democratic opponent, Inez Tenenbaum, can catch him.

Tenenbaum, the state’s Superintendent of Education, has mostly been the recipient of DeMint’s bad fortune. She has also been handed several opportunities to slam DeMint, who supported overhauling the federal tax code and replacing it with a 23 percent sales tax, which Tenenbaum has hounded him over. DeMint more recently damaged himself with comments stating that gays, lesbians, or single mothers with live-in boyfriends should not teach in public schools. These slip-ups have given Tenenbaum a heavy political arsenal to assault DeMint. However, the Tenenbaum campaign has been plagued with its own problems. She was slow to get out her first television ad, which was a response ad to Republican attacks, rather than a biographical piece to introduce herself as a Senate candidate to the people of South Carolina. She has also fired and replaced several key campaign advisers, a sign some see of a campaign failing to get traction.

Overall, Fritz Hollings seat is Jim DeMint’s to lose, and there are not many states in which he would not have lost it already; South Carolina is one of those states. The one substantive policy issue working against him is his support of free trade, while South Carolina’s textile industry is suffering from outsourcing. However, this issue was not big enough to push protectionist candidate David Beasley over DeMint in the Republican primary. Taxes and social issues are DeMint’s and South Carolina’s political bread and butter, although many could say that DeMint has gone overboard with both issues. DeMint, coming from his ultraconservative congressional district is not used to such scrutiny, but is learning to adapt and is backing off of his statements on gay and single-mother teachers. The race is tighter than it should be, but the Palmetto State is looking to hand President Bush a landslide, and DeMint will likely benefit greatly from presidential coattails.