In S.C. House, few face challenger
COLUMBIA -- The anti-incumbent movement that's said to be sweeping the nation sent only three South Carolina House members to the dust bin.
Many of the 124 House members faced no challengers in the primary, and fewer than 50 will have any competition this November. Only six of the 18 seats from Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties are contested this fall.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said House incumbents win and lose based on what's happening in their districts, more so than on a statewide or national level.
"House races are proof of that old saying that all politics are local," Harrell said. He doesn't face any challenge to his re-election. "These House races also show that people may not like a legislative body but they do like their members."
Incumbents also have several inherent advantages, political analysts say, including that House districts are drawn to protect incumbents. Carey Crantford, president and owner of Columbia-based Crantford & Associates, a research and polling firm that also specializes in Democratic consulting, said incumbents have name recognition and the ability to tap into resources and support from their party structures.
That provides a level of insulation to the incumbents, "even in a year when, nationally and locally, to a certain degree, there is a sort of throw-the-rascals-out mentality," Crantford said. "If you're an incumbent, you're pretty likely to have a seat again in South Carolina."
Chip Felkel, a public affairs consultant and founder and CEO of the Felkel Group in Greenville, said legislators can get "sideways" with their constituents and lose office, but if a situation doesn't involve that official directly, it's less likely to impact their re-election.
"At the local level, people tend to cast their frustrations with government at the institution or at the body in which their local official serves, but not necessary at their local official," Felkel said. "That's why incumbency is such as a power thing."
Nevertheless, Felkel said he believes the shake-ups will have the legislators paying even closer attention to the feedback from their constituents.
"You'll certainly find they'll take note," he said. "There does seem to be a new engagement, a new interest at least in some quarters of the state."
The three incumbents who lost are House Speaker Pro Tem Harry Cato, R-Travelers Rest; Rep. Keith Kelly, R-Woodruff; and Rep. Jim Stewart, R-Aiken. Four House members (three Republicans and one Democrat) face a runoff on June 22.
The state's 46 Senate members aren't up for re-election until 2012.
House members have two-year terms. Senators are elected once every four years.