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Big Names Headline S.C. Open-Seat Race

A little more than a week after Rep. Henry Brown’s (R-S.C.) announcement that he will not seek re-election, several Republicans with political chops and recognizable surnames are poised to join an increasingly crowded primary.

And although the final field is far from set, the race could be colored by shades of the 1994 open-seat battle in the Charleston-based district.

On Tuesday, Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond, son of the legendary late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), announced his plan to form an exploratory committee. Former 1st district Rep. Tommy Hartnett also said he’s moving closer to throwing his hat back into the political ring.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Chip Limehouse told local papers that he’s considering entering the primary and state Sen. Larry Grooms, who recently dropped his gubernatorial bid, has yet to shut the door on a Congressional run.

Another intriguing possibility being floated in South Carolina GOP circles has state Rep. Tim Scott, a black Republican running for lieutenant governor, switching races and seeking the 1st district nod. Scott could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

If Thurmond, Hartnett and any of the state legislators do enter the GOP fray, they will join Carroll Campbell III, the namesake son of a late former governor, and a pair of lesser-known candidates who have already filed.

While it’s not likely to tip the balance of power in the House, shades of the historic 1994 election can be seen in how the open-seat contest is shaping up.

Rod Shealy, a longtime South Carolina GOP political consultant said that even though the race will feature one, if not two, political dynasties as well as well-heeled politicians, there’s a case to be made that a wealthy outsider could end up on top.

“Several factors make this a lot like 1994, which is the year that four or five heavyweights jumped into that race and went to town, and a little-known businessman with no political experience came from nowhere and became the Congressman,” said Shealy, who worked with Brown.

That Republican was Mark Sanford, now the state’s embattled governor.

But back in 1994, the then-34-year-old Sanford was a successful real estate developer who had never run for office before. He gave his campaign $100,000, ran against Congress and beat the son of a former Congressman and a former state highway commissioner in the primary. He went on to beat the assumed favorite, former GOP state chairman Van Hipp, in the runoff.

Then, like today, South Carolina was in the midst of an open-seat gubernatorial race, which helped drive turnout, and Sanford was running in one of the most anti-Washington, D.C., years in recent memory.

Sanford’s “message was, ‘I’m a businessman, and I’m not a politician,’” Shealy said. “Which is why a businessman self-funder could probably jump in and do very well.”

Shealy, who has yet to sign on with a 1st district campaign but acknowledged that he may do so, said he’s had conversations with individuals in the district who may fit that mold, though he declined to name them.

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