Charleston County Republicans elected tea party and Fair Tax advocate John Steinberger as their new chair, the party’s third in four months.
The party’s faithful voted 51-34 for Steinberger over funeral home director Mark Smith in an election that featured a bit of everything: parliamentary maneuvering, a brief loss of lights, a time-consuming roll call vote — even a dirty trick.
Steinberger will guide the party not only through the busy 2014 election season, which features a governor and two U.S. Senate races, but also the run-up to South Carolina’s high profile 2016 GOP presidential primary.
Steinberger began serving as interim chairman last month, when former Chair Joe Bustos suddenly stepped down.
Bustos had defeated incumbent GOP County Chair Lin Bennett in April. That vote was considered a triumph for the party’s tea party and Libertarian factions. Mainstream Republicans said they were caught off guard when too few of them bothered to show up.
Bustos resigned last month, shortly after other party leaders said he should not hold that job and run for mayor of Mount Pleasant at the same time.
The close and intense nature of Monday’s race was shown in the maneuvering before the vote. Several tried to raise points of order and urged a roll call to clarify exactly who would be eligible to vote. Also, someone created a fake Facebook page indicating that Smith would have the same problem as Bustos.
“I would love to know who was responsible for creating the ‘Mark Smith for Mayor’ page,” Smith said. “I am not running for Mount Pleasant mayor.”
Steinberger gave out his cellphone number and vowed to try to build the party from the ground up by getting far more people, particularly minorities and younger voters, involved on the precinct level.
“There are a lot of Republican voters out there that we haven’t reached yet because we haven’t talked to them,” he said. “We need to be an inclusive party.”
Smith, head of McAlister Funeral Home, cited his work growing the East Cooper GOP Club, which had 35 members last year but 150 members at its last meeting. “Our meetings are fun. They’re engaging,” he said. “They don’t have roll calls.”
Steinberger and Smith exchanged a warm handshake after the results were announced. “Let’s get things done right now,” Steinberger said.
The county party also heard from Billy Shuman, a Charleston real estate agent who is seeking the District 42 Senate seat formerly held by Robert Ford.
“I’m no silver spooner,” he said. “When I get up there in the morning, I get out there and make it happen.” Shuman will face the winner of the six-way Democratic primary during a special Oct. 1 election.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or firstname.lastname@example.org.