Midterm Elections Preview: What’s At Stake in South Carolina?

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On November 8, millions of Americans will enter voting booths and cast their ballots  (joining the millions who have already done so in early voting or mail-in voting). While midterm elections do not garner as much attention as presidential elections, they are still extremely consequential and deserve the focus of every American. Midterm elections determine which party will control both chambers of Congress as well as many state offices.

Background

Going into the 2022 elections, the Democratic Party currently has a federal “trifecta” (controlling the Presidency, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives). Their congressional majorities are narrow, however. The Senate is tied between 50 Democrats (counting two Independent members who caucus with Democrats) and 50 Republicans, but Democrats control the chamber and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is the Majority Leader because Vice President Kamala Harris is President of the Senate and is able to break tied votes.  Democrats have 220 seats in the House of Representatives while Republicans have 212 (three seats are currently vacant). 28 of the 50 Governors are Republicans while 22 are Democrats. 

Lay of the Land

This election cycle includes all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, 35 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats, and 36 out of the 50 governor seats. Midterm elections tend to lead to losses for the President’s party. For example, the President’s party has lost an average of 26 House seats in midterm elections since World War II. If that was to happen this year, Republicans would control both chambers of Congress, significantly hindering President Biden’s ability to pursue his preferred policies. 

Last year, Republican overperformances in Virginia and New Jersey’s respective gubernatorial elections (a win in Virginia and a 3% loss in New Jersey, states that Biden won by double digits) suggested the climate was ripe for a strong Republican performance in the 2022 midterm elections. Republicans had a significant lead in most generic ballot polls (asking respondents whether they would prefer a generic Republican or a generic Democrat to represent their district in the House of Representatives) for the first half of 2022. 

Polls started to shift for Democrats after the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, sparking a wave of Democratic (and some independent) anger and enthusiasm to vote. However, polls shifted towards Republicans in the month of October as issues like inflation and crime have taken center stage. The last midterm election under a Democratic presidency in 2014 also saw a late-breaking Republican wave. In the 2014 Real Clear Politics generic ballot, Republicans went from losing by 1.4% at the beginning of September to winning the average by 2.4% on Election Day. Republicans ended up winning by 5.7%, outperforming the polls. Democrats were leading by 0.1% at the beginning of September this year, and Republicans are up 2.9% as of October 31. 

South Carolina Preview

The midterm elections are pivotal for South Carolina state politics. In addition to South Carolina’s seven congressional districts having elections, one of the two U.S. Senate seats (the one currently held by Senator Tim Scott, who is running for re-election) is also being contested. Scott’s opponent is State Representative Krystle Matthews, a Democrat from the town of Ladson. On the state level, every seat in the state House of Representatives is up for grabs, as are all statewide offices (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Superintendent of Education, Treasurer, Agriculture Commissioner, and Comptroller General. The Lieutenant Governor nominees run on a joint ticket with the respective Governor nominee of that party. Many cities and counties have local elections as well. 

Governor Henry McMaster has served as governor since 2017. McMaster is eligible to become the longest serving Governor in state history, since circumstances enabled him to serve more than the typical limit of two terms. Governor McMaster and his running mate, Lieutenant Governor Pamela Evette, are running a campaign focused on touting South Carolina’s economy, promoting their decision to keep South Carolina businesses, schools, and churches open during the COVID-19 pandemic, and opposing the implementation of President Biden’s agenda in South Carolina. Democratic nominee Joe Cunningham (a former Congressman from South Carolina’s First District in the Lowcountry from 2019-2021) and his running mate Tally Casey argue that McMaster’s four decades in politics are too long and that the state needs new leadership. The Cunningham-Casey ticket is focusing on supporting legal abortion, legalizing marijuana and sports betting, and eliminating the state income tax. 

Out of the other statewide races, Superintendent of Education is the most competitive. Republican Ellen Weaver’s message is that South Carolina’s education system is failing and needs to be shaken up by expanding school choice with vouchers that parents can use on a variety of educational options (public, charter, or private). She also says that parents need to be respected more in the educational process and that some districts teach a politically biased curriculum that needs to be stopped. The Democratic candidate, Lisa Ellis, argues that her experience as a teacher qualifies her to understand educational issues in South Carolina, disagrees with the view that the curriculum is biased, and believes that school choice vouchers would hurt public school funding and performance.  

Be sure to make your voice count at the polls!*

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