Coble Dropping S.C. Senate Bid

Boon to Democratic Frontrunner Tenenbaum

Posted October 20, 2003 at 5:41pm

Columbia, S.C., Mayor Bob Coble (D) abandoned his Senate candidacy Monday, leaving state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum as the lone serious Democrat in the Palmetto State Senate race and boosting the party’s chances of holding the seat of retiring Sen. Fritz Hollings (D) in 2004.

“I am ending my Senate campaign and strongly endorsing Inez Tenenbaum,” Coble said in a statement. “I believe that she can carry the Democratic Party to victory next fall and I have pledged to her my full support and effort to that end.”

Tenenbaum called Coble a “friend” and “a great mayor for Columbia.”

Knowledgeable sources indicated that Coble’s departure was a combination of an inability to match Tenenbaum in fundraising, a recent poll conducted for his campaign that showed him trailing badly in a primary matchup, and the strong desire in his heart of hearts to be governor.

Between July 1 and Sept. 30, Tenenbaum brought in $327,000 to Coble’s $115,000. She ended the quarter with $317,000 on hand; Coble had just $81,000 in the bank. Tenenbaum is married to a wealthy businessman and is expected to be financially competitive with Republicans next year.

“Money always is a factor,” Coble acknowledged in an interview Monday, though he added that his finances were not the prime motivator in his decision.

“When you concluded how much I would raise versus her popularity and her name recognition and the fact that I am not going to run a negative campaign, the conclusion was that I should drop out,” said Coble.

In a poll conducted by Cary Cranford for Coble, he trailed Tenenbaum 52 percent to 29 percent, a margin that sources say discouraged the mayor.

One Democratic source floated the possibility that Coble’s departure from the race was in exchange for Tenenbaum’s support for his potential gubernatorial bid in 2006.

Coble sounded as though a run for governor could be in his future. “I have one more statewide race in me,” he said.

Regardless of the reasoning, Coble’s announcement is a major victory for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which had earlier attempted to clear the primary field for Tenenbaum.

The committee ran into trouble with some high-profile state operatives, however — most notably former party Chairman Dick Harpootlian — who argued that national Democrats had mishandled the 2002 open-seat Senate race, which then-Rep. Lindsey Graham (R) won.

A spokesman for the DSCC chose to gloss over the earlier bumps in the road and focus on the crowded Republican field.

“While Inez Tenenbaum is talking about her positive vision for South Carolina the Republican candidates will be scratching each other’s eyes out in a four-way primary like cats fighting over a rotten fish,” said Brad Woodhouse. “We can live with that.”

The Democratic field is not totally clear for Tenenbaum, however. Marcus Belk, the coordinator of the now-defunct presidential recruitment effort of imprisoned former Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio), is the only other Democrat now running and is not seen as a viable alternative.

On the Republican side, Rep. Jim DeMint, former state Attorney General Charlie Condon, Charleston developer Thomas Ravenel and Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride are all seeking the nomination.

DeMint, a three-term Member from the Up Country, began the race as the heavy favorite but has moved back to the pack somewhat.

He still leads the field in fundraising with more than $1 million in the bank, but Condon has surprised by raising $411,000 in the third quarter and ending September with $824,000 in the bank. Ravenel donated $1 million from his own pocket this summer and ended September with $649,000 in the bank.

Interestingly, Condon received a donation from the conservative Club for Growth in the third quarter after the anti-tax group had given to DeMint earlier in the year.

One Republican source familiar with the Club suggested the donation to Condon signals that club leaders will likely be neutral in the primary, a significant change from earlier this year when they were planning to bundle campaign contributions to DeMint.

Despite Tenenbaum’s seemingly clear path to the nomination and the specter of a bruising Republican primary, the Palmetto State Senate seat remains a tough fight for Democrats.

The state has trended increasingly toward Republicans over the past two decades.

In the 2000 presidential election, President Bush took 57 percent; last cycle Republicans ousted the sitting Democratic governor, and Graham won the open seat of retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond (R), who has since died.

“This is a seat Republicans feel very good about, and with the caliber of candidates we have we are even more encouraged by our prospects,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Dan Allen.

Democrats believe Tenenbaum’s past electoral performances show she has an appeal that transcends party lines.

She was the top votegetter of any candidate — Democrat or Republican — on the statewide ballot in 1998 and 2002. Last year she received 50,000 more votes than Graham.

In polling conducted in early August for the DSCC, Tenenbaum led the three leading Republicans by double digits. Her closest race in the trial heats was against Condon, whom she led 48 percent to 36 percent.