GOP keeps its hold

Congressman Henry Brown speaks to supporters Tuesday night at the North Charleston Embassy Suites Hotel. Brown was re-elected after a hard-fought campaign.

It was almost as if South Carolinians participated in two different elections Tuesday.

They voted in the national one in which Democrats, led by Barack Obama, recaptured the White House after eight years of GOP control and also expanded their majorities in the U.S. House and Senate.

And there were the other elections within the state, where Republicans by and large cleaned up.

First District Rep. Henry Brown won re-election after a heated campaign, while U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham cruised past a less-organized opponent.

Four out of every five Republicans on the ballot won, including Mike Rose who prevailed against petition candidate Bill Collins in the state Senate District 38 race in the Summerville area.

One Democrat who won re-election handily was 6th District Rep. and U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who said Tuesday's result was a giant step for the state's Democratic Party, noting that Obama did about 10 percentage points better here than a statewide poll projected him to do last month.

"We've got a long way (to go) to rebuild this party," Clyburn said. "We're up against some headwinds."

For Democrats, however, Charleston County was a bright spot. Obama won the county by about 10 percentage points, and he appeared to have some coattails here, too.

Democrats appeared poised to wrest back control of County Council. Expected wins by Elliott Summey and Vic Rawl, plus the expected re-election of Colleen Condon, would give them a 6-3 edge on a body that's currently 5-4 Republican. Incumbent Republican Coroner Rae Wooten appeard to win by a slim margin over Democratic challenger Henry Middleton.

Democratic challenger Anne Peterson Hutto appeared poised to knock Republican Rep. Wallace Scarborough out of his District 115 seat on James Island. Meanwhile, many incumbent Democrats also won, including state Sen. Robert Ford of Charleston and state Reps. Patsy Knight of Dorchester County, David Mack of North Charleston and Leon Stavrinakis of Charleston.

While S.C. Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler said he was proud that Senate Republicans maintained their 29-17 advantage, "but now is no time to rest on our laurels. We have watched the national party struggle. ... As a party, we must focus on the real-life issues that impact people every day."

S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell said House Republicans will see their margin slip from 73-51 to 71-53 if Scarborough were to lose. "Losing two seats in this environment is probably not bad," Harrell said.

South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson noted Republicans won 82 percent of all races in which the party had candidates. "As the cold Democratic wind blew all over the country, South Carolina Republicans had a tremendous night," he said.

But College of Charleston political science professor Bill Moore noted that the state Democratic Party did better statewide in this election than in previous ones. If that's the benchmark for success, he said, then they met it. "It's better but it's an incremental change," Moore said.

Future elections will tell whether 2008 goes down as a mere speed bump in the South Carolina Republican Party's road to dominance or as a transforming event that will make Democratic candidates increasingly competitive here.