- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Republicans have their eyes on the seat of Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, as one of their best opportunities to pad their slim majority in the Senate.
Mr. Hollings, 81, says he hasn't decided whether to seek another six-year term but has done almost no fund raising this year.
Republicans see a ripe opportunity to switch the seat, which the Charleston Democrat has held since 1966, to Republican hands now that state politics have shifted firmly toward their party.
"Regardless of whether Senator Hollings runs for re-election, we believe South Carolina is one of our best pickup opportunities for 2004," said Lindsay Taylor, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.
In the first quarter of this year, Mr. Hollings raised $6,000 that could be used for a re-election bid, compared with $386,612 raised during that same period by the leading Republican challenger, Rep. Jim DeMint.
Mr. Hollings' take for the quarter is much less than that of any incumbent senator known to be seeking re-election, Federal Election Commission figures show. The next-lowest figure was the $140,125 raised in the quarter by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat.
Miss Mikulski, who is widely considered to have a safe seat, also has $433,300 in the bank.
Mr. Hollings has $911,738 in the bank, which is far below the $10 million spent by each candidate in South Carolina's 2002 Senate race.
Doug Dent, a Greenville lawyer and former Hollings staffer, said the early fund-raising figures don't mean much.
"If he were to make a dozen phone calls tomorrow, he'd have a half-million dollars," Mr. Dent said.
Democrats worry that Mr. Hollings will decide not to run. Some aides and party officials said privately that he may be the only Democrat who can win the Senate seat.
Mr. Dent said an open seat "obviously" would be a good pickup opportunity for Republicans, but added, "The people of South Carolina tend to be a little independent when it comes to their senators."
Mr. Dent was with Mr. Hollings on Friday attending the funeral of Mr. Hollings' 46-year-old daughter, who died unexpectedly in her home last week, apparently from natural causes.
Mr. Hollings remains torn about running again, he said.
"He has served his time, and he'd like to spend some time at the beach," Mr. Dent said. "But then, he still has that fire."
Hollings spokesman Andy Davis said, "He's still thinking it through, but we're operating as if he's running again."
Mr. Hollings has been emphatic, Mr. Davis said, about not placing a timeline on his decision.
"He's still concentrating on all the work he has in the Senate," he said.
One factor making Mr. Hollings look vulnerable is that South Carolina is no longer a reliable Southern Democratic stronghold.
Long gone are the days when Mr. Hollings would win re-election with 70 percent of the vote, as he did in 1974 and 1980. In his 1998 campaign, he won with 53 percent of the vote. In 1992, the last time his re-election coincided with a presidential race, Mr. Hollings won with 50 percent of the vote, while the Republican presidential candidate, George Bush, carried the state.
"Anybody who underestimates him does so at their own peril," Mr. Davis said. "He loves a good fight."
Mr. DeMint, a three-term congressman from Greenville who won his 2002 race with 69 percent of the vote, said in January that he would seek Mr. Hollings' seat. President Bush campaigned for Mr. DeMint in that race and was expected to get behind him early for the 2004 race.
If Mr. Hollings seeks another term, he will be running at the same time as Mr. Bush, who enjoys high popularity in the state and is likely to draw huge crowds of Republicans to the polls. In the close election of 2000, Mr. Bush won South Carolina with 57 percent of the vote.
"We call this Bush country," said Dan Allen, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Another race Republicans believe they can win to pad their 51-seat majority is in Georgia.
Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, isn't running for re-election despite his immense popularity at home. Republicans hope to capture that seat in the conservative state, though it won't make much of a difference inside the Senate because Mr. Miller often votes with Republicans on such key issues as taxes.
In the race to succeed Mr. Miller, Rep. Johnny Isakson, a Republican, is leading the field in fund raising with more than $2 million. He received $972,257 of that in the first quarter of the year.
The closest Democrat is Rep. John Lewis, who has $386,561 in the bank with $15,950 raised in the first quarter.

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