"Furious," "angry," "frustrated," "engaged," "enthusiastic," "optimistic."
These are the top adjectives Lowcountry Republican and Democratic leaders use when describing their voters' mood as the June 8 primaries draw near.
Filing for federal, state and local offices closed late last month, and now the candidates have eight weeks to make their case.
Each party's faithful agree that South Carolina's gubernatorial primaries are the most-intriguing contests, while the nine-way 1st Congressional District Republican race may be the most interesting locally.
In general, the GOP primaries will be most intriguing because the voters expected on June 8 won't resemble the voters who will turn out in November, Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon said.
"The Republican primary constituency is going to be more different this time than it usually is because of how fired up the Republican base is over health care and the desire for a more conservative candidate," he said. "They're being pulled to the right by the tea party."
The tea party movement began brewing nationally last year. It's been described as a loose, grass-roots expression of frustration about many governmental policies, particularly the level of federal spending and debt.
While many in the movement avoid any suggestion the tea party is tied to an established political party, local Republicans are eagerly courting them, Charleston County GOP Chairwoman Lin Bennett said.
"Every single one of them is touting fiscal conservatism and getting government under control, getting government out of their lives, cutting spending and states rights," she said.
The tea party is expected to be reinvigorated this week, particularly on April 15, the anniversary of the 2009 rally that drew thousands to the U.S. Customhouse steps in Charleston and to similar rallies across the state and nation. A fresh rally is planned at the Custom House Thursday beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Berkeley County GOP chairman Tim Callanan said tea party folks were mostly venting anger last year but now are willing to organize to bring about the change they seek.
"The overall anger is about spending and the debt. I think Republican candidates have to make it crystal clear that they're simply not the party of lower taxes -- that they're now the party of lower taxes and lower spending," Callanan said. "If I was to say which is more important to people at this time, I would say cutting spending is more important."
Callanan said primary voters are going to be more active in learning what candidates stand for. "They're not going to vote just because they're an incumbent or they have an 'R' next to their name," he said.
Bennett agreed: "Being an establishment candidate is not in your favor this time around. This time, it will be based on what they're saying they are going to do and how people feel they will follow through with it."
Dorchester County Republicans now are vetting their candidates by asking them to sign a pledge saying they agree with the state party platform, county GOP Chairwoman Carroll Duncan said.
While the tea party has given voice to voters' frustration, Duncan said there's a new enthusiasm emerging these days. "I'm seeing the Republican party just come back to life," she said. "I'm seeing very positive outcome of this."
Huffmon said he expects Democrats to discuss which candidate gives the party the best shot at winning in November.
While the Democratic Party has had little success in the Palmetto State in recent years, Huffmon said it may sense opportunity.
"The response to this year's State of the State address echoed a theme that they've been trying to latch onto. That is: Look at the economic woes of South Carolina and guess who's been in charge for the last eight years?" he said.
Berkeley County Democratic chairwoman Melissa Watson said voters are concerned about jobs first, then education, particularly with the prospect of further deep state cuts to education spending.
"A lot of people are really angry across the board with this education (budget) bill," she said. "As an educator, I'm hearing it everywhere. There are a lot of elements in the storm that could turn the tide our way."
Charleston County Democratic Party Chairman George Tempel agreed that education funding is shaping up as a top concern.
"Education is certainly one of the major statewide issues, but obviously, the main issue is jobs, jobs, jobs," he said. "I think the close link between the two will provide the red meat for the Democrats. We truly want to make change, and the change we want to make is to fully fund education."
Dorchester County Democratic Chairman Steven Yeomans said voters today would agree with the sign posted in Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign headquarters: "The economy, stupid."
"That's primarily what people want to hear about. People are still worried. They're still scared. They're still out of work. I am too. I lost my job six months ago," he said.
Yeomans, who faces his own primary battle against Christine Jackson in the S.C. House District 98 race, said the recent anger voiced after health care reform was approved last month already has begun to cool.
"Some of that vitriol has backed off, and now people are waiting to see how the chips are falling and how it's going to affect them," he said. "I think it's going to have more effect in the outcomes of the general election rather than the primaries."
Huffmon said many Democrats may be secretly hoping that conflicts among conservatives, particularly between tea partiers and mainstream Republicans, will fracture the party and injure its chances in the fall.
"Whether that plays out remains to be seen," he said.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or at email@example.com.