County Council Curse?

By Paul Gable

Former Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill learned his famous political maxim “all politics is local” in his first campaign (and only loss) for elective office.

The concept is that politicians are successful when they concentrate on the everyday concerns of their local voters and that most people who vote are focused on local concerns.

The validity of O’Neill’s maxim seems to be playing itself out, at least in a negative sense, in the contest for the Republican nomination for the new 7th Congressional District seat.

According to recent poll information shared with Grand Strand Daily, former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer continues to lead in the polls with current county council chairman Tom Rice and former county council chairman Chad Prosser losing some ground to Bauer.

Familiarity with their performance in local office may be hurting both Rice and Prosser while much of Bauer’s political baggage rests in Columbia.

Rice has made jobs a focus of his campaign, yet, in recent months, he has again moved to shut down the Harley Davidson bike rally at the risk local jobs; supported a government monopoly for the Horry County Solid Waste Authority at the expense of jobs in small private businesses and has tied his job creation efforts to a revamped economic development corporation that has yet to produce.

Prosser is still tied in voters’ minds to the Burroughs and Chapin Multi County Business Park complete with its nearly $80 million giveaway to the largest business in the county and all the other local divisiveness that the issue caused when he was county council chairman. He has also been relatively invisible to local voters while spending time in Washington seeking PAC money.

Prosser and Rice are running second and third, respectively, in polls shared with us. Rice has been in the race the longest of the three, but is failing to gain much traction. Prosser, a more recent entrant, needs to do a lot more personal contact with his local base.

Recent analogies to Rice’s and Prosser’s current difficulties with local voters can be seen in former county council chairman Liz Gilland’s and former county council member Kevin Hardee’s attempts to win state office.

Although incumbent county chairman at the time, Gilland lost a 2008 election contest to incumbent state Sen. Luke Rankin by nearly a 3 to 1 margin. Hardee, the incumbent District 10 county council member, lost handily to political newcomer George Hearn in a race for SC House District 105 in the same year.

One local politician who is over-performing from early expectations is Myrtle Beach city council member Randal Wallace. Wallace is in a battle with Florence attorney Jay Jordan for fourth in the polls, although way behind Jordan and the top three in fund raising.

Wallace has always done well with one-on-one meetings with voters. He is known for knocking on doors throughout Myrtle Beach to speak with voters during his council races. The same approach is keeping Wallace in the race for the 7th so far.

Jordan, in comparison, is doing well on the fund raising end for his campaign, but has not yet found a way to connect personally with voters.

It is always difficult for local politicians to move to the state or federal level. Too much local baggage is often associated with their time in office. That seems especially true for county council members with the diverse electorate now residing along the Grand Strand.

Horry and Georgetown counties together make up approximately 50 percent of the electorate in the new district. Bauer, with his statewide name recognition and personable style, is doing a much better job, at this time, of connecting with voters than the local entrants in the race.

Horry County alone cannot guarantee a win in the 7th Congressional District race, but, it seems more than capable of contributing to a loss with the local candidates failing to connect with local voters.



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