York Co. GOP eyeing S.C. Senate seat for 2016

jself@heraldonline.comNovember 10, 2012 

York County Republicans already have eyes set on a S.C. Senate seat they say a York County conservative could win in 2016 – giving the county, and the Republican Party, more representation in Columbia.

York County is home to two potential candidates who could run on the GOP ticket for the historically Democratic S.C. Senate District 17 seat, currently held by Winnsboro Democrat Creighton Coleman, said Glenn McCall Chairman of the York County Republican Party.

McCall named former York County Councilman Steve McNeely and S.C. Rep. Tommy Pope as ideal candidates.

In redistricting following the 2010 U.S. Census, the district grew north adding McConnells and York to the narrow swath of southern Rock Hill which was the district’s only York County holdings prior to the changes. The district also includes all of Chester and Fairfield counties.

York County voters grew from comprising 20 percent of the district in 2008 to 45 percent in Tuesday’s election.

Seeing that shift as an advantage, Fairfield County Republicans offered Winnsboro Republican Bob Carrison to run against Coleman.

Carrison lost, prompting McCall to wonder if a York County candidate would be better suited to tapping the county’s conservative base.

“Bob’s a good candidate, but if we can get a really solid candidate from York County, I believe we can give Creighton Coleman a run for his money,” McCall said.

McNeely said he declined a request to run against Coleman in this year’s election. He hasn’t made any decisions about a run in 2016.

“If I do decide to run, I would appreciate their help,” McNeely said of the York County GOP.

McNeely ran this year for the county council’s western York County seat against Joe Cox of Sharon, a former council member. McNeely lost in the June primary.

McCall says he lost because he had such a short campaign. McNeely entered the race less than three weeks before the primary when Republicans reopened the filing period after Councilman Eric Winstead ended his re-election bid, citing health reasons.

Pope, the other name on McCall’s list, said he hasn’t considered running, but didn’t reject the idea.

“I would never rule anything out,” he said.

Pope will begin his second term in January representing S.C. House District 47. He served as Solicitor in the 16th Circuit and defeated former state Rep. Herb Kirsh, a long-serving Clover Democrat, in the 2010 midterm elections.

He’s a candidate several Republicans said they can support.

Pope said if he were to run, he’d be running “for a position, not against somebody. You won’t see me working against Creighton Coleman.”

“In the few times I’ve had to do something with Creighton, he was very open to hearing what I had to say. He was accessible. And that’s what we need” in a representative, he said.

In addition to Coleman, York County is represented by two other senators who do not live in the county: Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, of District 14 and Chauncey “Greg” Gregory, R-Lancaster, of District 16.

Hopes pinned on York GOP

Support for Coleman and Carrison in Chester and Fairfield counties followed trends for straight-party votes cast for Republicans and Democrats. Coleman, a Democrat, earned more than two-thirds of the vote in both counties.

In York County, Carrison took 42 percent of the vote compared to Coleman’s 58 percent.

“We thought we would carry York County,” said Carrison.

Looking back on the race , Carrison said he was “flying blind without polling numbers” and had limited campaign resources. “We were making assumptions that turned out not to be true,” he said.

Billing himself as a “conservative Democrat,” Coleman said his stance on issues – not the district’s partisan divide – has helped him win and earn support from Republicans.

Coleman, “one of the last breed of blue-dog Democrats,” has earned respect from mainstream York County Republicans, who might even entertain having him in the GOP as a way to avoid a 2016 contest, McCall said.

Coleman was cold to that idea Friday, simply saying, “No. I’m a Democrat and I’m going to stay a Democrat.”

As such, he’ll be a difficult incumbent to beat, but there might be a way, Republicans say.

“If a Republican were ever going to win this district they would have to come out of York County,” Carrison said. “A known conservative with a record might stand a chance.”

Kevin Thomas, chairman of the Fairfield GOP, agreed, and said he would support a competitive York County conservative in the race. That would mean losing a resident senator, but that would be OK , he said.

“We just want the best person. As long as you’re in the district, it doesn’t matter.”

A strong Republican candidate with name recognition in York County and President Barack Obama no longer drawing record voter turnout among Democrats will improve odds for a Republican to win, said Drew Johnson, 5th District chairman for the South Carolina GOP.

“I’d like to see people continue voting in large numbers, but history has told us that is probably not the case,” he said.

‘Million dollar question’

Not everyone agrees about the GOP’s chances.

Richards McCrae, a Rock Hill attorney and executive committeeman to the S.C. Democratic Party, said, “It’s wishful thinking that a Republican would have a snowball’s chance in hell” of winning the district, which consists of two “solidly Democratic” counties.

While York voters may bring more conservative voters, the entrenched Democratic base in Chester and Fairfield counties will be difficult to overcome, he said.

Following a clobbering in his home county and dismal returns elsewhere, Carrison said he also doubts whether a Republican can win the district without a landslide victory in York County.

McNeely, who nearly gave “no comment” when asked if he’d run, also was uncertain.

“That’s the million dollar question.”

Jamie Self 803-329-4062

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