- The Washington Times - Monday, October 25, 2004

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A victory by Republican Rep. Jim DeMint is still expected in South Carolina’s U.S. Senate race, political observers say, though Democrat Inez Tenenbaum has made some inroads against her opponent.

“She’s made movement,” in attracting some of the state’s independent voters who lean Republican, said Blease Graham, political science professor at the University of South Carolina. “But it’s an uphill battle, given the Republicans’ starting advantage here.”

The candidates are vying to replace retiring Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, a Democrat who served for decades with the late Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond. Mr. Thurmond was replaced by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was elected in November 2002.

A Survey USA Poll taken mid-October showed Mr. DeMint with 46 percent of support and Mrs. Tenenbaum with 43 percent.

“If [Mr. DeMint] wins — which I think he will — it will be because South Carolina is such a Republican state,” said Hastings Wyman, editor of the Southern Political Report.

Mr. Wyman said Mr. DeMint has gotten himself into some “trouble” recently and his opponent has capitalized on it.

“He’s been on the defensive,” said Mr. Wyman, citing a flap over Mr. DeMint’s recent comments that he’d support banning openly homosexual and lesbian teachers from public schools and Mrs. Tenenbaum’s relentless criticism of his support in Congress for legislation that would institute a national sales tax.

Mr. DeMint, by contrast, has stressed the state’s need for someone who can help President Bush and keep the Senate in Republican hands. Mr. Bush won here in 2000 by 57 percent over Vice President Al Gore’s 41 percent.

The three-term congressman from Greenville made those arguments several times during a debate Saturday night, telling voters, “South Carolina could change the course of history not only by electing President Bush, but by giving him the votes he needs in the Senate.”

But Mrs. Tenenbaum, the state’s superintendent of education, repeatedly hammered the sales-tax issue during the debate, warning that “it’s going to raise taxes” on most South Carolinians.

Mr. DeMint said she is distorting the issue. He has said he’d never raise taxes and that the bill he signed onto — which he notes would eliminate all other taxes while instituting a sales tax — was just one of several he supported, in order to start a national dialogue on how to fix a broken tax system.

Throughout the campaign, Mrs. Tenenbaum has touted herself as an independent and avoided campaign events with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry or other top-name Democrats.

“That’s what I am, an independent voice for South Carolina,” she said during the debate.

But Mr. DeMint responded that she is hardly independent, because she will “support turning the Senate over to Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton.”

And he also hit hard on education, repeatedly criticizing the state’s poor graduation rate under Mrs. Tenenbaum’s watch.

Mr. DeMint also was questioned Saturday about his homosexual-teacher comments. He issued an apology the first week of October, the Greenville News reported, after he said during one of the earlier debates that he supports the state Republican Party’s position that openly homosexual and lesbian teachers should be banned from public schools.

In a post-debate interview with the Aiken Standard, he tried to clarify by saying he would apply the same standard to pregnant unwed teachers.

“That didn’t make him look too good or wise, and it got him off-message,” said Mr. Wyman, who noted that the campaign had to deal with the fallout of those comments for several days.

On Saturday, Mr. DeMint apologized again, saying the comments distracted from the campaign and made people think he wants to address the issue on the national level, which he does not.

Mr. Graham said that despite Mr. DeMint’s challenges, he is still the likely winner, because roughly 45 percent of those who vote in the state are Republicans, 35 percent are Democrats and 20 are independent voters who lean Republican. He also said one should not underestimate the established local Republican infrastructure in the state, which gets out the vote when needed.

“There’s a resiliency to the Republican organized establishment that I think will ultimately make the difference for DeMint,” he said.

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