- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Seven months before the presidential primary in South Carolina, the state Democratic Party doesn’t have the money to pay for it, raising doubts about whether the first-in-the-South primary will take place.

Joe Erwin, who took over as state party chairman last month, maintains that the Democrats can raise the estimated $450,000 in the coming months to hold the Feb. 3 primary; a $1,000-dollar-a-plate fund-raiser has been scheduled for Aug. 4.

But the cash-strapped state party, which still doesn’t have a finance director, faces a tough challenge.

The most recent state filing, from April 10, showed the state party with $288.93 on hand, which does not include “soft money” that the party doesn’t have to disclose. Mr. Erwin declined to provide a copy of the party’s current treasurer’s report after an executive committee meeting on Tuesday.

Last month, the party held the first Democratic presidential debate and its annual fund-raising dinner, which eliminated a $70,000 debt and left the party with more than $200,000, according to Mr. Erwin. The party chairman said Democrats have about $100,000 on hand.

“I’m not a stupid optimist,” Mr. Erwin said. “I’m scared enough to know we have to work our tails off.”

South Carolina, which in recent presidential years has allocated delegates through less-costly caucuses, and Utah are the only states in this election cycle that rely on the state Democratic Party to finance the primaries. Presidential primaries elsewhere are state-funded, according to the Democratic National Committee.

In Utah, which uses only volunteers and paper ballots, Democrats plan to consolidate their polling places to reduce the cost to less than $50,000. Utah Democratic Chairman Meghan Holbrook said the party does not have the cash on hand for the primary, but there are plans for fund raising.

Mr. Erwin is hoping to hold South Carolina’s primary relying solely on volunteers and the possible use of paper ballots at a cost of $450,000. But a campaign official with Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards of North Carolina, who is hoping for a momentum-building win in South Carolina, said the campaign has been told by state Democrats that the primary would cost $1 million.

Whatever the cost, the Democratic National Committee had said it would not step in to finance the primary despite the embarrassment of a canceled primary. The DNC wants to avoid the precedent of bailing out one state party, knowing that if it does, others would come calling. Mr. Erwin said he will not ask the DNC for help.

Adding to the state party’s financial woes was the DNC’s decision last week to reject a higher filing fee for presidential candidates in South Carolina. The state had sought DNC approval for a fee of $4,100 when each presidential hopeful files to run in the primary — there are nine candidates — but the national committee rejected that amount, saying it would be too much of a financial burden on the candidates.

Instead, each candidate will pay $2,500 to appear on the South Carolina ballot.

The prospect of an all-volunteer primary could prove challenging.

Al Holland, a Democratic Party chairman in Lee County, said he would have to enlist at least 72 persons to run the county’s 24 polling places at a cost of $25 each, a thought he finds unnerving.

“If it’s going to be 100 percent [volunteer], we better start getting people,” said Mr. Holland, who pointed out that people are unaccustomed to working the polling places for free. “It’s going to be a job to get them out and get them to do it.”

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