South Carolina Democrats will begin rebuilding their party in Charleston, new S.C. Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian said during a recent visit here.

"My No. 1 goal is this county. This is where we're going to start it," Harpootlian told a crowd at the International Longshoremen's Association hall. "Charleston is where my campaign will begin to take back this state."

He joined former chairwoman Carol Fowler, former state lawmaker, college president and U.S. Senate candidate Alex Sanders and the politically active Rev. Joseph Darby to discuss the party's future.

While the party is licking its wounds statewide from losing six of seven congressional seats and every statewide election last fall, the Charleston event underscored the party's vitality locally.

Not only did the event draw more than 100 Democratic supporters and activists, but there was a presence from three groups -- the county party, the West Ashley Democrats and the S.C. New Democrats, led by Charleston businessman Phil Noble.

Sanders joked about the party's sad state. "I have friends in Charleston who are gay and who are afraid to come out of the closet because people will think they're Democrats," he said.

Fowler agreed with Harpootlian that the party need look no further than Charleston County to find ways to energize itself. "I've been watching y'all for four years," she said. "Richland County has no organization on the county level (because the state party is based in Columbia). Charleston does."

The county also has supported Democrats in recent elections, voting for President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional hopeful Linda Ketner in 2008, and electing a Democratic-dominated County Council.

Told about Harpootlian's remarks, Charleston County GOP Chairwoman Lin Bennett said there's nothing like good competition. "They did well in the last election, 2008, but that's because I think 2008 was a little different than anybody had experienced. I don't know that the same thing is going to happen in 2012."

Harpootlian expressed hope that the state's new congressional and legislative districts -- which he predicted ultimately will be drawn by the courts, not the Legislature -- will give Democrats a better shot in 2012.

"You're going to see new districts that are not all white or all black," he said. "It's going to be easier to recruit candidates."

Others emphasized the need to donate to the party, to work hard and to hold Democrats accountable once elected.

They acknowledged that they weren't going to lure all the independent vote. Fowler said some South Carolinians say they're independent "because the Republican party is too liberal for them."