Excuse the Charleston County Republican Party if its members are feeling a little blue these days.
They’re still adjusting to life in the minority.
While most of South Carolina remained reliably red during the midterms, Charleston County turned a deeper shade of blue than it has been in years.
The Democrats won upsets in a couple of state House races and took the register of deeds office this year. And, of course, Charleston delivered enough votes for 1st District congressional candidate Joe Cunningham to prevail over Republican Katie Arrington.
Understandably, none of this sits well with the Republican rank and file. But what they shouldn’t do right now is shoot the messenger.
Because Chairman Larry Kobrovsky is offering them the path back — even if it’s a truth some just don’t want to hear.
“You have to be able to persuade people that you have the better ideas. And they have to like you before they’ll listen to you,” Kobrovsky says. “There’s not enough of the base on either side to win.”
He’s absolutely right.
Candidates who simply call their opponents evil, spout canned talking points and expect to win because they have an “R” by their name on the ballot are bound to be disappointed on election night.
At least in Charleston County.
If it sounds like Kobrovsky is talking about civility, the trending term in politics today, he’s not.
He wasn’t too keen on Mark Sanford’s New York Times op-ed about civility, partly because Sanford didn’t help the party this year, but mostly because the congressman failed to mention loutish behavior by liberals.
“If you don’t call out both sides, no one is going to listen,” Kobrovsky argues.
He isn’t just talking about civility, but message. He believes in the axiom that all politics is local. Candidates need a positive message and, around here, should embrace conservation issues. After all, what’s more conservative than preserving what we’ve inherited?
What he’s really saying is be more like Joe Boykin.
Boykin ran for County Council in a district that favors Democrats. He ran on a promise of better constituent services, environmental issues, and maintained — like Kobrovsky — that county elections shouldn’t be partisan.
Although he endorsed the completion of 526, Boykin didn’t argue with those who oppose the road. Instead, he listened to them. Even Nix 526 endorsed him (although, in fairness, they famously don’t like the incumbent, Anna Johnson).
Boykin essentially ran a bipartisan, or nonpartisan, race. His campaign manager was Abe Jenkins, a former Democratic Party operative, field organizer for President Obama and a grandson of civil rights icon Esau Jenkins. Their motto was “people over politics.”
Sound like another Joe?
Boykin didn’t win, but in a blue wave year, he came close. He was the only GOP candidate to poll 30 points higher than Republican Gov. Henry McMaster in some precincts, and did 10 points better than Republicans traditionally do in that council district. That says something.
It says Kobrovsky is right.
By most measures, the Republicans didn’t have a terrible election — even in Charleston County.
But when you’re used to winning almost everything, it just feels that way.
So the party faithful are playing the blame game, some of which is unfairly directed at Kobrovsky.
Fact is, the county has been trending Democratic for a long time. Michael Miller won the register of deeds office on the heels of the party taking the auditor’s and treasurer’s offices in recent years.
And consider this: Charleston County has been nearly evenly split for a long time, but its most Democratic precincts lie in the 6th Congressional District.
Still, Cunningham overwhelmingly won in Republican areas of the county. He got the votes of people who also tapped the screen for McMaster and local GOP candidates.
In Charleston County, Arrington won almost exactly the same number of votes as 1st District congressional candidate Dmitri Cherny in 2016 — and he’s the guy who suggested colonizing another planet.
Which helps Kobrovsky’s case against straight-ticket voting.
The numbers from the midterm elections suggest people here still often pick people over parties. Refreshingly.
Jenkins says that’s because the demographics of the county are changing, and younger voters care less about affiliation than where a candidate stands on issues that matter to them.
Which is how politics should be.
And that also proves Kobrovsky absolutely right. In Charleston County, politics is about who engages voters better, and has the best ideas.
Candidates should act accordingly.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.