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Nikki Haley and Sarah Palin (AP/Photo by Mary Ann Chastain)

More fresh faces

Politics | Voters in South Carolina and Utah continue the trend to elect newcomers to office

For a state ranked 40th in size, South Carolina has had an out-sized share of political headlines over the past year. And few of them have been good, starting with Gov. Mark Sanford going AWOL last June and then confessing he had gone to visit his Argentine mistress. Then Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson inserted himself into the spotlight by shouting "You lie" during President Obama's September speech to Congress.

So after Tuesday's primary runoff results, South Carolina voters seem to be joining the rest of the nation in embracing new faces over political lions. Republican voters there have given the gubernatorial nomination to state Rep. Nikki Haley over four-term U.S. House member Gresham Barrett. While in the state's Low Country, Tim Scott defeated Paul Thurmond, son of the late long-time U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, for the Republican nomination for an open U.S. House of Representatives seat.

The resounding victories by relative outsiders over a sitting congressman vying for higher office and the heir of a South Carolina political icon continues a nationwide trend of anti-establishment fervor.

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What's more, the results suggest that the state's Republican Party is embracing racial and ethnic diversity: Haley is an Indian-American woman and the state's first female nominee for governor, while Scott is African-American.

"[Haley's] success ushers in a new era of South Carolina politics and represents a growing new generation of Republican leaders from across the country," said Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governor's Association. Haley, in grabbing 65 percent of the vote to Barrett's 35 percent, overcame ties to the controversial Sanford thanks largely to an endorsement by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

With his victory in a district that has sent a Republican to Congress for three decades, Scott, 44, is set to become the first black Republican congressman since Oklahoma's J.C. Watts left office in 2003, and the first from the Deep South since Reconstruction.

"This election is about finding a way to bring us together so our country continues to lead the world on every front possible," Scott, who won 68 percent of the vote to Thurmond's 32 percent, told supporters Tuesday night.

In South Carolina's Upstate, Republican Rep. Bob Inglis of Greenville became the fifth House or Senate incumbent to be rejected by voters. The six-term Republican, deemed too moderate after he backed controversial bailouts like the Troubled Asset Relief Program, lost to prosecutor Trey Gowdy by nearly a two-to-one margin.

While South Carolina's run-off results demonstrated the anti-incumbent movement's sustained strength, voters in other states Tuesday also continued to reject experience in favor of fresh faces.

In Utah, Republicans, who had already denied incumbent Sen. Robert Bennett, gave attorney Mike Lee a close win over businessman Tim Bridgewater for the GOP Senate nomination. This is a doubly whammy to current Sen. Bennett, who had endorsed Bridgewater after losing his bid for reelection.

But the 38-year-old Lee had backing from most Tea Party activists. He could become the youngest current serving senator if elected in November as expected in the largely conservative state.

"Mike came from behind to win this race because of his unwavering support for the Constitution and the principles of freedom," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and chairman of the Senate Conservatives Fund. With the win likely giving the Tea Party a true voice in Congress, DeMint will be getting allies inside the Senate in his move to make the GOP in Congress more conservative.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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