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Or, the Purpling of the Palmetto State.

One of the under-reported results of the 2008 elections is the surprising improvements Democrats made in South Carolina, with little more than Obama's ground game. Given these results, the Democratic Party has a chance to make further inroads into SC. Given what's at stake in the 2010 elections, they would be foolish to not do so.

This diary is long, so here's a summary:

  1. Obama lost SC by only 9 points, an 8-point improvement over Kerry's performance, with a lot of room for further gains.
  1. Two Democratic House candidates ran surprisingly close races against Republican incumbents and are in great position to challenge again in 2010.
  1. One of the most conservative members of the Senate is up for re-election in 2010. With the right candidate and campaign, this seat is a potential pick-up opportunity.
  1. SC holds its statewide elections in 2010-- including a Governor's race in which the incumbent is term-limited from running again.
  1. There is a very good chance that SC will receive a 7th House seat after the 2010 Census, increasing the importance of redistricting.

In the extended entry: how and why to turn South Carolina blue.

First, let's look at the sixteen state and district presidential races that finished within 10 percent in 2008:

StateMarginWinner
Missouri0.2%McCain
Nebraska's 2nd0.2%Obama
North Carolina0.5%Obama
Indiana0.9%Obama
Florida2.5%Obama
Montana3.8%McCain
Ohio4.0%Obama
Georgia5.3%McCain
Virginia5.5%Obama
Colorado7.8%Obama
South Dakota8.5%McCain
North Dakota8.6%McCain
Arizona8.6%McCain
South Carolina8.9%McCain
Iowa9.3%Obama
New Hampshire9.6%Obama

Amongst the usual swing-state suspects are several states that the Obama campaign pulled out of early and/or got into late, all of which ended up in McCain's column. And then there's South Carolina-- despite spending little if anything on advertising in the state (besides what was targeted to GA and NC), Obama improved eight points over Kerry's 17-point loss in 2004. Part of the improvement can be attributed to voter registration and GOTV efforts (10% increase in registration and 5% increase in turnout since 2004), but even with tremendous absentee and Election Day turnout, I doubt those efforts were worth eight points by themselves.

Significant chunks of the improvement came from Obama's national advertising, campaign efforts that spilled over from GA and NC, and the campaign infrastructure remaining from the early Democratic primary. With more than a half-assed effort by the Obama campaign and the Democratic party, combined with the existing apparatus and efforts, SC could swing by double-digits by the next Presidential election. Consider, Obama overcame a twelve-point Kerry deficit in 2004 to win NC by several tenths of a percent; according to Nate Silver, no two states are more similar than North and South Carolina [edit: link added]; therefore, what worked in North Carolina should by and large appeal to South Carolina as well. (Note also the supposed "battleground" states are not on that list. The SC presidential race was closer than the ones in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, and West Virginia.)

Okay, so the terrain looks at least receptive (if not favorable) to turn SC blue in 2012. What about in the meantime, like 2010?

Well, in mid-term elections, South Carolina elects its statewide officials, including Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Superintendent of Education. (N.B. All but one of them, Superintendent Jim Rex, are Republicans.) Also, in addition to the six House races, our junior senator, Jim DeMint, if up for re-election, as well as all 124 members of the state House of Representatives.

First, the federal races:

SC-Sen: Freshman Senator Jim DeMint is one of the most (if not THE most) conservative members of the Senate. He is anti-choice, has expressed anti-gay sentiments, and is a staunch fiscal conservative (he voted against the Bailout, in part because "our own Government appears to be leading our country into the pit of socialism."). He's not a complete nut-- he's called on the GOP leadership to boot Ted Stevens from the Senate-- but too often he's at odds with, um, reality.

So with the right candidate and campaign, DeMint would be vulnerable. The right campaign would likely align itself with President Obama and hammer DeMint's record (he'll likely oppose many of Obama's programs on fiscal grounds). The right candidate? No idea. With any luck, someone better than Bob Conley. (Aside: Conley is an object lesson in paying insufficient attention to the primary process. I didn't vote in the Senate primary, thinking, like many other Democrats, what would it matter who's offered up to Lindsay? Yeah. But more about the shortcomings of my straight-party Democratic vote later.)

SC-01: Henry Brown won an unexpectedly close race to Linda Ketner. I'm not sure which is more surprising: that the first openly gay major-party congressional candidate in SC lost to a four-term incumbent by a scant four points-- or that her sexual orientation was not an issue in the campaign? Whether Ketner runs again here or elsewhere, Brown is vulnerable. SC-01 is a prime pickup opportunity for the Democrats.

SC-02: Joe Wilson was the other incumbent Republican to only win by single-digits over his Democratic opponent. Wilson defeated Rob Miller, a veteran of the Iraq War, by only eight points. Another pickup opportunity for the Democrats.

SC-03: Gresham Barrett won by 30. His name has been bounced around for a run for Governor, but that's about the only way to get him out of this seat-- it's probably his for as long as he wants it.

SC-04: Bob Inglis didn't fare as well as Barrett-- he only won by 23. Unless he runs for another office-- and so far I haven't heard anything to indicate he will-- this seat is likely his for the keeping.

SC-05: Every cycle, we see John Spratt show up on a couple of "targeted Democratic seats" lists. And then he goes out and wins by 25.

SC-06: Jim Clyburn is the third-ranking Democrat in the House and is arguably the most powerful South Carolina politician at the moment. Oh, and he won re-election by 35. I've seen his name mentioned for a possible place in the Obama Administration (and for selfish reasons I hope he turns them down if offered), but if he gave up the seat, it would likely still stay in Democratic hands.

SC-07: Wait, what? Hold on a second, SC doesn't have a 7th district. Maybe in a few years....

SC-Gov: This will likely be the biggest race in the state in 2010. The incumbent, Republican Mark Sanford, is restricted by term limits from running again for re-election. At least two potential Republican nominees, current Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and current AG Henry McMaster, won statewide office just four years ago. That gives Democrats a bit more than a year to recruit some candidates who could successfully run against someone with the name recognition of Bauer and McMaster. Possible Democratic candidates include current Superintendent Jim Rex, former Superintendent and Senate candidate Inez Tenenbaum, and former SC Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin.

Besides the obvious benefits, the party who wins the Governor's chair in 2010 will enjoy a couple other electoral advantages. First, the Governor appoints the five members of the State Election Commission, whose mission is "to ensure every eligible citizen has the opportunity to register to vote, participate in fair and impartial elections, and have the assurance that their votes will count." Sounds important. Second, the Governor holds veto power over redistricting.

SC-Leg: The State Legislature also has a significant role in redistricting, among other things, but, unsurprisingly, both houses of the General Assembly are in Republican control. Sadly, we're stuck with an all-male Senate for the next four years, but the enitre membership of the House is up every two years.

But, check the state election results and notice that more than half of all state House and Senate candidates (for both parties) ran unopposed or against only third-party opposition. Many voters ran into the same problem I did, where voting straight-party Democrat (and refusing to vote for Republicans) meant I did not cast a vote in my state legislators' races (as well as several other races). Now, I do realize that in many of these districts, Democrats would perform little better than not running at all, but we can't take over the Legislature at all if we don't field any candidates. At any rate, Democrats would have to flip 10 out of the 71 Republican-held House seats to claim a two-seat majority. (There's also the problem of fighting the massive political contributions of Howard Rich to a bunch of Republican legislative candidates under the premise of supporting school vouchers, and, um, right-wing causes, but that's another diary.)

And, there's the rest of the state Constitutional Officers: Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General, Comptroller General, State Superintendent of Education, Commissioner of Agriculture, and Adjutant General. Some of these offices will be open, depending on who runs for Governor and Senator.

So that's why, but what about how? An analysis of voting results in each of SC's 46 counties this year and four years ago shows how far Democrats have come and how far they still need to go.

For the 2008 election, SC had 2,580,175 registered voters, of whom just under 75% turned out to vote. The eight most populous (based on registered voters) counties in the state account for a majority (52%) of the total population of registered voters in the state, while the next eight most populous counties account for just under 24% of statewide registered voters. So, a third of the counties hold 3/4 of the electorate (no surprise, really). Let's break down the stats for those 16 counties, using the official results:

County#Reg Voters%State RVTurnoutKerry MarginObama MarginImprovement
Greenville2501729.72%76.75%-33.2%-23.9%+9.3%
Richland2181278.45%76.15%15.0%28.9%+13.9%
Charleston2075168.04%75.00%-4.8%8.3%+13.1%
Spartanburg1469575.70%75.03%-29.3%-21.6%+7.7%
Lexington1452645.63%76.02%-44.7%-38.0%+6.7%
Horry1450855.62%64.57%-25.7%-24.6%+1.1%
York1219294.73%77.42%-30.0%-17.7%+12.3%
Anderson1146604.44%65.20%-35.0%-33.3%+1.7%
Aiken912843.54%77.26%-32.4%-24.0%+8.4%
Beaufort908873.52%76.31%-21.4%-10.8%+10.6%
Berkeley892033.46%73.96%-22.6%-13.0%+9.6%
Florence746172.89%79.06%-12.6%-3.2%+9.4%
Dorchester742752.88%71.52%-27.2%-15.5%+11.7%
Pickens708172.74%64.41%-48.1%-46.2%+1.9%
Sumter602942.34%73.22%1.7%15.4%+13.7%
Orangeburg562632.18%71.50%31.9%38.1%+6.2%

Looking past some of the abysmal margins Obama scored (his 46-point loss in Pickens county was his worst showing in the state), note that Obama outperformed Kerry in every county on that list. In fact, Obama did worse than Kerry in only two small counties, Abbeville and Saluda, which combined have less than 25,000 registered voters.

Obama did best in Richland (Columbia) and the Black Belt region, so further gains there would be incremental. But, everywhere else, Democrats have room to make further gains in the next couple election cycles. Heck, Charleston and Colleton flipped to blue, and in other nearby coastal counties-- Beaufort (Hilton Head), Dorchester, and Berkeley-- Obama improved by more than 9 points over Kerry's margins. Meanwhile, even in the conservative Upstate (Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson, Pickens, and Oconee), home of Bob Jones University, Obama made significant though more modest gains. York County (Rock Hill) is basically a suburb of Charlotte, while Aiken County includes North Augusta, across the Savannah River from Augusta, GA. And as for Horry County... I would think the residents of the Grand Strand would be receptive to a message of environmental responsibility, rather than risk losing their tourists (I hope).

Now, project these gains two years from now, adding in the huge efforts it would take to sustain these improvements, and you can see that making SC blue is entirely possible. If we do this right, in four years, SC could have a Democratic Governor, a Democratic Senator, a purple-to-blue General Assembly, and a 5-2 (or even 6-1!) Democratic House delegation. Don't laugh-- we convinced several redneck friends and acquaintances in candy-apple red counties to vote Democratic this year. Just think what could happen with a concerted large-scale effort.

So don't write off the Palmetto State (wrongheaded religious leaders notwithstanding). The terrain is as favorable for Democrats as it has been years, with the possiblity of huge returns on investment.

Originally posted to Quikngruvn on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 06:17 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Blue Atlantic (14+ / 0-)

    It's simple, really: turn SC and GA blue, and build on successes in VA, NC, and FL, and we'll have a nice, blue Atlantic coast to match the Pacific coast.

    •  let's hope! as an aside...Lindsey and JSM (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mayan, jj32, Carol in San Antonio

      Obama Release on McCain Meeting

      Obama-Biden transition spokesperson Stephanie Cutter released the following statement on a planned meeting between President-elect Obama and Senator McCain Monday:

      "On Monday, President-elect Barack Obama and Senator John McCain will meet in Chicago at transition headquarters. It's well known that they share an important belief that Americans want and deserve a more effective and efficient government, and will discuss ways to work together to make that a reality. They will be joined in the meeting by Senator Lindsey Graham and Congressman Rahm Emanuel."

    •  Yes. Add the great lake states, the Dacotas, (0+ / 0-)

      Montana and also Alaska and Arizona (now that Palin and McCain are have beens) and then we have the rethuglicans cornered with their capital in Oklahoma surrounded by blue states and the gulf coast. Jesusland will shrink further in 2012.

      Do we really need bipartisanship now that we won the election?

      by Montreal Progressive on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 07:30:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think too (3+ / 0-)

    If Obama can have a successful run, people will see that the world indeed did not end by having an African American as president, that all of the threats of marxism, naziism etc. are not true
    However, one problem remains that Obama did pretty well in SC because he was on the ticket through strong African American participation. It's a lot harder to get out that heavy of a turnout for more boring governor's races/house races/local elections. For example, I fully expect Jim Martin to lose in Georgia, simply because the huge numbers which showed up for Obama simply will not come back just to vote for Martin.

    A fellow ain't got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody - Tom Joad, Grapes of Wrath

    by gladkov on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 06:25:05 AM PST

  •  I don't know... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cskendrick

    I'm in Cola, kind of a democratic bastion represented by Jim Clyburn.  On a state level it just doesn't seem to me that there're any democrats with the name recognition, popularity and vast sums of cash available to make a go at any of the high level offices.

    I don't follow SC politics closely, I'll admit.  I STILL don't know the name of the democrat who ran again Lindsey Graham...and I VOTED for the guy!!! :D

    I do hope you're right and that things turn around here.  SC is, and has been for a long while, in DESPERATE need for change and accountibility.

  •  Tipped... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cskendrick

    for the next big battle turning SC blue.  Not holding my breath...but "hey" - if it could happen in Virginia and N.Car., why not!

    "We're all working for the Pharaoh" - Richard Thompson

    by mayan on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 06:31:32 AM PST

    •  SC needs an influx of Dems to move in before (0+ / 0-)

      it'll change on its own. That's what happened in NC and VA over the last 4-6 years, and SC is on the Evangelical's "there's no place like" short list for the ensuing Rapture that just hasta, it just hasta take place during an Obama Administration.

      "Mr. Naylor, the great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese."

      by Relevant Rhino on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 06:53:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hmm influx of Democrats... (0+ / 0-)

        We have been given this one precious chance to become one nation again, peacefully.

        by cskendrick on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 07:01:28 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  It's happening already. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rccats3

        The population appears to be shifting (warning: pdf) from the East and Midwest to the South and West. GA and NC are themselves looking at the possibility of each gaining a House seat after the next Census. Plus, there is already a significant presence of international corporations in the state (e.g. Michelin and BMW), and we have one of the cheapest standard of living in the country.

        Come to SC-- we're not all hicks and rednecks!

        •  Population definitely shifting (0+ / 0-)

          At least here in Charleston.  My husband and I (two young Dems) moved here after college and we've noticed a large influx of young professionals and retirees.  It's actually pretty rare to find a native these days.  I work with only 2.  There is a concerted effort to attract tech companies (Google being the most high profile) and the local colleges have entered into partnerships with Clemson and SC to offer more graduate level courses here.  Things are changing, but since SC cities don't have the populations of the NC, VA, or GA powerhouses, it will happen at a slower pace.  Don't get discouraged though!

          •  My husband and I are two retirees (0+ / 0-)

            who moved into Charleston County from Pennsylvania.  We've made friends with several other retiree couples here from New York state, etc.  So I do think that inward migration is helping to change South Carolina and we were delighted that Charleston County went blue.  Better than most of western Pennsylvania where we moved from!  So I totally agree that there is hope for South Carolina as a purple/blue state.

  •  I think the Dems poised to retake the South, BUT (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cskendrick

    Comparing 2008 to 2004 is apples to oranges.  In 2008 you had a presidential candidate that motivated to AA community to unprecedented levels and a republican brand that was in the deepest, smelliest corner of the septic tank (as opposed to just the toilet).

    However, what we SHOULD do is compare 2008 to 2012 and set some goals.  If the dems take the south seriously, recruit some good people to run for office, and put resources behind them - there is VERY fertile ground there.  No time like now to solidify the gains of 2008.

    •  Yes, but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      4democracy

      Many of the newly-engaged African-American (and young) voters and volunteers will remain engaged. Certainly not all, but plenty.

      Also, compare the '04-'08 differential of the other states with the highest proportion of African-American population:

      Mississippi: Kerry -19, Obama -13, Improvement +6
      Louisiana: Kerry -15, Obama -19, Improvement -4 (diaspora-induced)
      Georgia: Kerry -17, Obama -5, Improvement +12
      Maryland: Kerry +13, Obama +25, Improvement +12
      South Carolina: Kerry -17, Obama -9, Improvement +8
      Alabama: Kerry -25, Obama -21, Improvement +4

      If it were based only (or even primarily) on African-American population, we would have seen bigger improvements all along the Gulf Coast.

    •  Should be possible to control for the AA vote (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      4democracy

      to see what the turnout/preference impact on non-AA's was...

      We have been given this one precious chance to become one nation again, peacefully.

      by cskendrick on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 06:59:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Recruit, recruit, recruit (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      4democracy

      Dems need to start nurturing talent at the local level and bump up the numbers in the state House/Senate.  That will help with name recognition and serious contenders for higher profile offices such as governor and the SC Senate seats.  It will take patience.  

      As an aside, Jim DeMint is a douchebag and would be vulnerable in most any other state that had a bench of Democrats ready to run.  Even Republicans I know view him as a do-nothing who is just riding coattails and taking up space.

  •  nc and sc from nate (0+ / 0-)

    I believe he said that these states do not move together. They have very different demographics. I looked for the post but couldn't find it. I would check that out please.

    First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win - Gandhi

    by mysticlaker on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 06:44:27 AM PST

  •  I'm glad I clicked on this. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cskendrick, Miniaussiefan

    Nicely done diary.

  •  We live in Pickens County, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cskendrick

    home of the 46-point Obama loss. At a highway intersection near us, a few days before the election, someone had vandalized an Obama yard sign that had been placed there among other candidates' signs.  All that remained of Obama's was the frame and the margin of the sign with part of the Obama logo.

    A day or so later, another Obama sign was in place, next to the tattered remains of the first one. Now THAT was encouraging!

  •  Jeez Pickens county is as hillbilly as SC gets (0+ / 0-)

    We have been given this one precious chance to become one nation again, peacefully.

    by cskendrick on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 06:56:50 AM PST

  •  SC Native... (0+ / 0-)

    I'm a native of the Palmetto State (Union County), and spent several years in Charleston in the Navy.  We moved to NC about 22 years ago.

    "Back in the day" the GOP had their "Dream Team" of Carroll Campbell for Gov. and Tommy Hartnett for Lt. Gov.  Democrats labeled this the "scheme team," the scheme being that in the event of Strom Thurmond's demise, Campbell would resign, and Hartnett would appoint Campbell to fill out Strom's term.

    But a couple of things thwarted the scheme.  First, Strom outlasted them all.  And secondly, Democrat Nick Theodore beat Hartnett in the Lt. Gov. race.

    Those were the days!

    •  Union County (0+ / 0-)

      For what it's worth, Obama lost Union Co. by only 11 points, though he barely improved on Kerry's performance (0.1% better).

    •  Campbell for Senate? Never. (0+ / 0-)

      Carrol Campbell always wanted a Senate seat, he just never wanted to run for it.

      In 1998, he made an ad with endangered incumbent David Beasley saying that if anything happened to Ole Strom, Beasley would appoint Campbell as his replacement. It didn't work. Jim Hodges won the election.

      Only one problem. If Campbell wanted to be a Senator, why didn't he run against Fritz Hollings, who was up that year? If anyone would have beaten Fritz, it was Campbell.

      "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." - Will Rogers

      by wayward on Sat Nov 15, 2008 at 06:56:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice diary but just to let you know.......... (0+ / 0-)

    Under SC-01 it says that Brown lost to Keitner

    Obama in 08 - Mission Accomplished!

    by DawnoftheRedSun on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 07:06:52 AM PST

  •  Joel Lorrie? (0+ / 0-)

    a friend of mine lives in his state senate district and tells me he's a good guy and responsive public servant.

    Thoughts?  Observations?

  •  Broader Narratives (0+ / 0-)

    Yglesias likes flogging the urban archipelago map.

    Another overlay is Robert David Sullivan's 10 Regions of American Politics.

    Barack Obama has won six regions, taking South Coast away from the Republican column. That means he's won the five most urbanized regions.

    Trading a rural, aging inland south voting block for an emerging one in the urban\suburban south coast may have been inevitable. Something to consider for those engaged in Hillary "what-ifs". There seems to be a conventional wisdom that she would have had success in the mountains like her husband. I doubt there is a Democratic path through Appalachia now regardless of the candidate.    

    "Wake up Democrat"

    by ILDem on Fri Nov 14, 2008 at 07:47:44 AM PST

    •  Democratic path through Appalachia (0+ / 0-)

      Let's not fool ourselves too much.  A white candidate with Obama's bona fides would have fared much better through the 2008 "red zone" where McCain outperformed 2004 Bush.

      So there is a Democratic path through Appalachia, with grassroots economic populism.  IMHO.

      •  Probably, but (0+ / 0-)

        Hillary (for example) may have performed better in Appalachia-Ozarks than Obama, but would she have energized the African-American community like Obama did? And would she have been able to draw as much support from disenchanted Republicans and Independents? Probably not, so it's at best a wash.

        Just going by Obama's margins, we can see the next logical targets for Democratic pickups: Missouri, the Dakotas, Montana, Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina, and a bit further down the line, eastern Nebraska, Texas, Mississippi, and West Virginia. Wow, I'm getting giddy imagining that much blue on the map....

  •  SC-03 (0+ / 0-)

    Gresham Barrett will probably run for Governor, leaving the seat open.

    State Rep. Michael Thompson (R-Anderson) and State Sen. Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson) are rumored to be the top contenders on the Republican side. However, they may knock each other out, since they are both from the same part of Anderson.

    Thompson would be a lock, but Bryant is so hard right, he could be beatable with the right candidate and a good amount of money.

    "I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat." - Will Rogers

    by wayward on Sat Nov 15, 2008 at 07:05:45 PM PST

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