CHARLOTTE — Democrats have struggled in South Carolina in recent years, but they hope this week’s Democratic National Convention will help change the game.
The state’s 62 delegates are ready to shape politics back home, sparked by an enthusiastic convention experience and the possibility of gaining some traction in local elections.
But the party also faces challenges in a state dominated by the GOP.
With that in mind, here are a half-dozen takeaways from the convention:
Going in, some speculated that this year’s Democratic convention would be flat because President Barack Obama’s re-election bid doesn’t have the same historic cachet as four years ago, and because of the nation’s economic headwinds.
But South Carolina’s delegates seemed as energized — or more — by being here, not only because of the quality of the speeches, but because of the reaffirmation they received being around like-minded people.
“I have to get a dose of this,” state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg said on the convention floor, “because when I go back, there ain’t no Democrats in South Carolina.”
Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden came close to beating Republican Nikki Haley in the 2010 gubernatorial race and gave every indication here that he will try again in two years.
Sheheen kept a high profile among state delegation breakfasts and parties, missing few chances to thank supporters for their past support while implicitly seeking it for 2014. Even his former campaign director, Trev Robertson, now executive director of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, spent time mingling among South Carolina delegates.
Sheheen is seeking re-election to his Senate seat and isn’t expected to formalize a gubernatorial bid anytime soon, but it won’t be a surprise if he’s back to challenge Haley again.
Democrats realize they can’t focus all their attention on the presidential race in swing states.
S.C. Supreme Court rulings this year have voided many contested state and local races, but some remain, and delegates vowed not to overlook them.
That’s particularly true in Charleston County, where Democrats have a chance to pick up their first county-wide seat in years, as Democrat Henry Tecklenburg faces Republican Paul Gawrych in the auditor’s race, and they could capture Republican Glenn McConnell’s former Senate seat.
If Democratic candidate Paul Tinkler can win that District 41 Senate race, Democrats also could seize control of the Charleston County legislative delegation for the first time in many years.
South Carolina’s Democratic delegation, with a few exceptions, looked older than those of other states, and no one from the state spoke from the stage until late in the three-day event.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., saw his brief speaking slot bumped back to Thursday night when Tuesday’s convention fell behind schedule.
Clyburn said he didn’t mind the change, but it appeared symbolic as to how far the party has fallen in a state it largely owned a generation ago.
Despite the optimism within their gatherings, few Democratic delegates were predicting that Obama will prevail in South Carolina on Nov. 6.
Most have written off the state’s nine Electoral College votes for Republican Mitt Romney, and instead are planning to make calls and visits to swing states, including North Carolina.
State Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian encouraged Upstate Democrats to visit Asheville, Midland Democrats to head to Charlotte and coastal Democrats to work in Wilmington.
Political conventions nominate a presidential candidate, but they also turn the spotlight on a party’s rising stars.
Regardless of what happens on Nov. 6, Obama won’t be on the ticket in 2016.
South Carolina delegates got a close-up look at some of the party’s rising stars who may try to fill the void that will be left by Obama.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana all helped their prospects in South Carolina by talking at one of its delegation breakfasts.