Getting a grip on too many candidates
The more candidates the merrier?
Or the more candidates the more confusing?
When Little Mountain, a little town in Newberry County, held a mayoral election last November, nobody ran.
After Gov. Nikki Haley promoted Tim Scott from the U.S. House to the U.S. Senate early this year, 18 people decided to run for his vacated 1st Congressional District seat.
Guess which job pays more.
Whatever you think of the 1st District field's quality, few congressional elections can beat it for quantity.
Sixteen of the candidates are Republicans. Fifteen of those showed up for Thursday night's Republican Liberty Caucus forum at North Charleston City Hall. They were divided into three groups of five — and limited to one-minute answers.
And last week, the state Republican Party, citing that candidate glut, called off what was supposed to be the major pre-primary debate scheduled for this coming Thursday. Instead, the party plans a one-against-one debate on March 28 between the top two finishers in the March 19 primary.
In other words, party officials safely assume there will be an April 2 runoff. After all, if the second-place through 16th-place candidates average a mere 3.334 percent of the vote each, the top finisher wouldn't get a majority.
But the next time 16 people run for an office in these parts, why not consider more creative pre-primary confrontations?
We could borrow from the NCAA tournament setup and seed the candidates, then pit No. 1 against No. 16, No. 2 against No. 15, and so on, in one-on-one debates.
No, the 1st District GOP bunch doesn't rate “Sweet 16” billing. Judging from many of the candidates' religion-infused branding, “The Sacred 16” — or even “The Sanctimonious 16” — seems more fitting.
For instance, former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic bills himself as “an unapologetic Christian conservative.” State Sen. Larry Grooms goes with “pro-life Christian conservative.”
State Rep. Chip Limehouse, among the check-marked qualifications on one of his many mail-out cards, lists: “Happily married for 20 years and father of two.”
Former state Sen. John Kuhn assures voters in a radio ad that he is “dedicated to God and my wife and children.” Kuhn even took this high-and-mighty road at Thursday night's forum: “I've never cheated on my wife, and I'm not going to.”
Mark Sanford, the sitting-duck target of that self-righteous shot, invokes “grace” and “a God of second chances” in a TV ad.
Back to secular alternatives for overcrowded primaries:
Put all 16 candidates in the same ring for a rasslin'-style battle royal, with competitors eliminated one at a time by being thrown over the top rope until only the winner remains.
Too undignified for those seeking this lofty office?
Hey, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, an accomplished squared-circle villain, was elected Minnesota's governor in 1998.
And rasslin' and politics have much in common, including underhanded tactics, good guys turning bad (and vice-versa), bodacious boasts and even provocative public-policy proclamations.
Ponder this recent warning: “We have allowed a bunch of greedy, selfish, criminal delinquents to cross our borders and rob this great country of all its wealth.”
That wasn't a hard-line GOP 1st District candidate.
That was Zeb Colter, manager of the aptly named Jack Swagger, condemning U.S. immigration policy — and riling up World Wrestling Entertainment heavyweight champ Alberto Del Rio.
OK, so politicians rarely hit each other with metal chairs. Yet.
So maybe we shouldn't further degrade our already demeaning political process into a loser-leaves-town — or winner-goes-to-Washington — match.
But we definitely shouldn't assume that Sanford is a shoo-in.
Sure, he'll likely win the first round by a wide margin over the runner-up — say 35 to 15 percent?
That, however, wouldn't guarantee a runoff triumph.
Remember, former Gov. David Beasley took first in the initial 2004 GOP Senate primary over Jim DeMint by 36.6-26.3 percent. DeMint then thumped Beasley in the runoff, 59.2-40.8.
In 1994, Van Hipp Jr. won the first round of the 1st District GOP primary by 30.8-19 percent over the runner-up. That No. 2 guy — Sanford — won the runoff, 52-48.
As for Limehouse's “happily married for 20 years and father of two” pitch:
This voter has been happily married for nearly 37 years — and is also a father of two.
But despite that quantitatively superior qualification, in the definitive words of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman:
“If nominated I will not run; if elected I will not serve.”
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.