South Carolina Rep. Gresham Barrett is set to announce that he is running for Governor. The position is currently held by Republican Mark Sanford, one of the country’s most conservative Governors. Sanford is term-limited out of office in 2010, and Barrett could perpetuate the far-right’s hold on this seat: National Journal’s latest voting ratings find him to be the 4th most conservative members of the House.
Barrett, who was first elected in 2002, is known for his advocacy for a national prohibition on online poker - a position that could attract the enmity of the gaming industry in the gubernatorial primary. In 2006, Barrett became one of 33 representatives to vote against the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Such credentials must be a problem in most states, but South Carolina has colored itself so red that Barrett could make an electable general election contender.
The question, of course, is whether he will even get there. Barrett is the first Republican to officially jump in the race, but other candidates are expected to jump in: Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer and Attorney General Henry McMaster are both positioning themselves for a gubernatorial run. In fact, McCaster will hold a fundraiser headlined by John McCain this week.
These statewide officials will enjoy higher name recognition, the experience of prior statewide races and larger networks. But Barrett’s ultra-conservative reputation will be a boost with his party’s base, as will the fact that he has $725,000 sitting in his House re-election fund that he can transfer to the gubernatorial race.
The primary’s winner will have the upper-hand in the general election, though Democrats will have a shot. Two state Senators - Robert Ford and Vincent Sheheen - are already running for the Democratic nomination; many more are rumored to be looking at the race, most notably House Minority Leader Harry Ott and former party chairman Joe Erwin, who could bring some of his own money in the race. In fact, the list of potential Democratic candidates I have assembled in my recruitment page is more than two times as long as the list of potential Republican candidates.
Barrett’s jump in the gubernatorial race creates the 11th open seat of the 2010 cycle, and the 8th Republicans will have to defend (see full list). Fortunately for the NRCC, they will not have to worry much about SC-03, a historically Democratic district that took a big swing to the right in the 1994 realignment and that has hardly looked back since. George W. Bush crushed Al Gore 64% to 35% and John Kerry 66% to 34%; John McCain kept up a similar margin, defeating Barack Obama 63% to 35%.
In other words, SC-03 is even more conservative than AL-02 and ID-01, which are now considered as the high-mark of how red a district can be for Democrats to have a shot if everything goes right for them. It will be worth keeping an eye on the race, as with all open seats, but the Republican nominee will undoubtedly be very heavily favored, which should guarantee a highly competitive GOP primary. At the very least, Democrats can hope for a slightly less conservative representative than Barrett.