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Race Ratings: GOP Strengthens Grip on South Carolina

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Freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney had a tough race unseating a longtime Democratic incumbent in 2010, but he should have a much easier contest in 2012 in his redrawn district.

Twenty years ago, South Carolina’s Congressional delegation had four Democrats and two Republicans.

When Rep. John Spratt lost in the GOP wave election of 2010, Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn became the only House Democrat left in the Palmetto State’s six-person delegation. It’s likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future: one Democrat representing the strongly Democratic majority-minority 6th district and Republicans representing the rest of the state.

Over the past two decades, the state has shifted to become solidly Republican. Even in the Democratic wave election of 2008, every district except the 6th went against Barack Obama by a wide margin.

The new Congressional map signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley (R) on Monday adds the new district allotted to the state in reapportionment in the northeastern part of the state. The new 7th district  strongly favors Republicans, and the new map also strengthens the districts of GOP Reps. Joe Wilson and Mick Mulvaney.

Democrats aren’t optimistic about their prospects in the state this cycle, but they think over time attitudes may evolve.

“I’m just hoping the climate will change so that people will look more favorably at a two-party state, rather than a one-party state,” said former Rep. Liz Patterson, who was one of the four Democrats representing the state two decades ago.

The new map is likely to face a lawsuit from the state Democratic Party and, under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, must be pre-cleared by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia or the Department of Justice before it can be enforced.

1st district
Incumbent: Tim Scott
1st term (65 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

The addition of the 7th district to the Palmetto State’s map moved the freshman’s district south along the coast. It now includes the city of Hilton Head and parts of Charleston County.

While the 1st changes geographically, it remains similar politically. Scott won with 65 percent of the vote in 2010 and is likely to win easily again.

Asked Wednesday whether he was confident he could garner a similar vote total this cycle, he told Roll Call that he would be campaigning hard for his second term.

“I’m comfortable that I’m going to work my butt off,” Scott said. “Our goal is to make sure [voters] know who I am ... so that they have an understanding of what makes my heart tick. And the politics will take care of itself.”

2nd district
Incumbent: Joe Wilson
5th term (54 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

It’s no lie. Wilson is in a safer district than he was in 2010 when he beat his Democratic opponent by 10 points. The 2nd district lost Hilton Head and its environs to the 1st and counties along the southern border of the state to the 6th.

Wilson’s district is now more compact and includes all of staunchly Republican Aiken County. One potential red flag: In the second quarter, he raised $91,000 but spent $118,000 — an unusually high burn rate in an off year. Wilson’s campaign said a lot of the spending was on paying back debts from last cycle’s very expensive race.

3rd district
Incumbent: Jeff Duncan
1st term (63 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

Although Duncan is only a freshman, he should have no trouble winning a second term in this southwestern district. The 3rd lost part of Aiken County but picked up portions of Newbury and Greenville counties in redistricting. Despite the changes, the district remains comfortably Republican.

4th district
Incumbent: Trey Gowdy
1st term (63 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

Earlier iterations of the new Congressional map had left Gowdy, who lives in Spartanburg, disappointed because it had a large part of Spartanburg County chopped out of the 4th and placed all of Greenville County in his district. But the final map signed into law is to Gowdy’s liking. It preserves the balance in his district between the two sometimes-rival, often-partner counties and keeps the 4th safe Republican turf. Gowdy should glide to his second term in Congress.

5th district
Incumbent: Mick Mulvaney
1st term (55 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

It wasn’t easy for Mulvaney to unseat longtime Rep. John Spratt in 2010. But with a significantly more comfortable district — 58 percent of voters under the new lines would have cast their ballot for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election — Mulvaney should have an easier time winning his second term in this central district that runs from the North Carolina border to the outskirts of Sumter.

6th district
Incumbent: James Clyburn
10th term (63 percent)
Rating: Safe Democratic

A Republican might run against the Assistant Minority Leader, but a candidate would need a miracle to come within striking distance of him. How Democratic is the district? Under the new lines, just 32 percent of voters in the district would have cast their ballots for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election.

7th district
New seat
Rating: Likely Republican

On the surface, this new district looks like it could be in play. But privately Democrats in the state admit they don’t really have much of a shot here. Anchored in Republican Horry County, which went 62 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election and 64 percent for now-Gov. Nikki Haley (R) in 2010, the new district is not fertile ground for even a moderate Democrat. The early frontrunner is state Rep. Alan Clemmons (R), provided he enters the race as expected. Clemmons happens to also be chairman of the House Election Laws Subcommittee that helped draw the new district. Other potential GOP contenders include state Sen. Luke Rankin, state Rep. Thad Viers and former Lt. Gov. André Bauer.

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