Next year, voters across South Carolina will decide a host of state and local races.

The politicking is barely beginning, except for the wide-open governor's race in which 10 Republicans and Democrats are hoping to replace Gov. Mark Sanford.

The economy likely will continue to loom as a dominant issue, and congressional action on health care and energy also could shape next year's elections.

Here are five major questions that political observers expect will play out during the coming year:

1. How will Sanford's legacy affect the governor's race?

Jeri Cabot, adjunct professor of political science at the College of Charleston, said Sanford's secretive trip to Argentina and the resulting ethical fallout certainly could help Democrats running for governor.

But she said Sanford's greater legacy may be his constant battles with the Legislature, including the heated debate over the $700 million in stimulus money this year.

"It's going to be about who can work with the Legislature, not so much even whether you're liberal or conservative," she said. "It's about who has the experience and who is willing and has the temperament to work with the South Carolina Legislature."

DuBose Kapeluck, an associate political science professor at The Citadel, said Republicans remain favored. "If I were a political consultant, I would urge them to stop all this talk of impeachment and just sort of let it go away. The more this just sort of fades into the background, the better it will be for Republican candidates for the governorship."

2. Could U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint face a close call?

DeMint, R-S.C., is not expected to face the primary challenge that his colleague Sen. Lindsey Graham did a year ago, but his solid conservative credentials could leave him more vulnerable in the general election. At least theoretically.

While Rock Hill lawyer Chad McGowan, Mike Ruckes, a retired auto worker living in Summerville, and Gary M. Stephens of North Myrtle Beach have signaled their intention to run as Democrats, political observers say they face an uphill fight.

Traditionally, the party not in power in Washington fares better in non-presidential years, so that will help Republicans, Kapeluck said. "The national tide is helping Republicans at the state level," he added.

Clemson University political science professor Dave Woodard, who has written a book with DeMint, said, "If anybody has an easy go of it, he does."

3. Can U.S. Rep. Henry Brown survive his primary?

Brown narrowly won re-election last year against Democrat Linda Ketner, but most expect the Republican's biggest hurdles next year will come from within his own party, where Carroll "Tumpy" Campbell III, a son of former Gov. Carroll Campbell, is launching a challenge.

"I think it will be a tough race," Kapeluck said. "I think that Henry showed his weakness, almost his Achilles' heel, is his lack of dynamism on Capitol Hill. That's what Linda Ketner really brought out, turning this self-moniker of a 'workhorse' against him, saying that all he does is constituent work and he doesn't represent any ideological positions within the party."

Cabot agreed. "I think it will be a race about money, who raises the money. If Campbell gets past the $1 million mark early, I think you'll see a race there."

Outside Brown's 1st District, many Lowcountry voters will be looking to see how U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson fares. The Lexington Republican's "You lie!" outburst during President Barack Obama's health care address sent more than $1 million flowing into both his coffers and those of his challenger, Democrat Rob Miller.

4. Will Tim Scott win the lieutenant governor's race?

Scott, a state representative from North Charleston, is seeking to become the first black Republican elected statewide in South Carolina since Reconstruction.

He has blazed the trail before, both in the Statehouse and on Charleston County Council, and many will be watching to see if Republican voters here choose him over Florence County Councilman Ken Ard and Columbia attorney Bill Connor, who said they also are seeking the nomination.

The state Republican Party leadership broke this barrier last year when it elected York County Republican Party chairman Glenn McCall as the first black person to represent South Carolina on the Republican National Committee.

"Tim Scott is a very interesting candidate, and I think he has a good shot," Cabot said. "It will be interesting to see how good of a statewide candidate he is and if the Republican Party will get behind him."

5. Which other races will emerge in the coming year?

While the gubernatorial and congressional races will be the highest-profile contests, it's less clear which will be the most interesting local races, as dozens of state representatives, county council members and other officials stand for re-election.

Sometimes these contests, such as the 2006 Berkeley County supervisor race, can be the most interesting and meaningful for local voters.

Political observers said it's too early to see which ones will emerge. They'll have a better idea when filing for these offices opens in March.