Are we partisan? Do our candidates win or lose?

Here’s a column I wrote a couple of years back that might be interesting today.

Note that the figures I worked with have to do with general elections, not primaries. But I thought I’d post this anyway, as long as we were on the subject of endorsements. This column originally ran on Nov. 4, 2004:

November 4, 2004 Thursday FINAL EDITION
LENGTH: 898 words

AS I’VE SAID before in this space and elsewhere, there are three things that our political endorsements are not:

  • They are not meant to advance the cause of either party. We don’t always endorse Democrats, or always endorse Republicans. We get accused of both about equally, which is fitting, since over time, we endorse about as many of one as the other. Party doesn’t matter.
  • They are not predictions. Endorsements are not about who will win; they’re about who ought to win.
  • They are not, despite all that you may have heard, the "kiss of death." We’ve heard that one a thousand times: "The State‘s candidates always lose." Actually, election after election, the majority of candidates endorsed by The State win.

    A couple of weeks back, I made a series of presentations to employees of The State explaining our endorsement process. (Only six of the newspaper’s 500 or so employees are members of the editorial board, so the process can be as mysterious to them as to the public, and it is my constant goal to demystify it.) In preparing for those meetings I did something, just for fun, that I’d never done before — at least, not cumulatively: I looked back at all the general elections since I joined the editorial board in 1994, and ran the numbers to determine two things about the candidates we have endorsed: partisan balance, and won-loss record.
    I was just curious, and knew others would be.
    Updated to include the results of Tuesday’s election, here’s the partisan breakdown for the past decade: We have endorsed 43 Democrats, 41 Republicans and one Independent (Bubba Cromer, back in 1994). If you leave out the one Independent, that means our endorsees have been 51 percent Democratic and 49 percent Republican.
    The thing that strikes me about that is how amazingly close to an exact split that is, considering the fact that we don’t factor party into our deliberations. It’s obvious, when you look at individual years, that we’re not deliberately balancing it any more than we’re trying to favor one party over the other. In 1994, we backed 10 Democrats and only four Republicans; in 1996 it was two Democrats and five Republicans, and so on. The balance only occurs over time.
    As for the "kiss of death" — well, that’s one of the more laughable urban myths in the Midlands. Our 10-year record is 64 wins versus 21 losses. If we were trying to pick winners, which we’re not, we’d be batting .753. We haven’t had a "losing season" in the entire decade. Our worst year was 2002 (7-6), and our best was 2000 (16-1).
    This is meaningful only in that it demonstrates the extent to which South Carolina voters tend to think a lot the way we do. But we never know whether that’s going to be the case until the election results are in.
    What about this year, you say? How did we do on Tuesday? Well, we endorsed seven Democrats and seven Republicans (completely unintentionally; I didn’t actually count them until we recapped our endorsements in Tuesday’s paper). Of those, 12 won and two lost. One loser was a Democrat, one a Republican.
    And one of those was a foregone conclusion. I was surprised Swain Whitfield managed to get even his 39 percent against strong incumbent Rep. John Scott.
    This "won-loss" record might actually be better than it would be if we were trying to predict winners. I did that, privately, on Monday night. I sent myself an e-mail from my home computer that night making the following predictions: John Kerry would beat our candidate George W. Bush nationally. Jim DeMint would beat Inez Tenenbaum. S.C. Senate District 22 was too close to call, but I had a feeling Joel Lourie "might eke it out" over Ken Wingate.
    That’s one wrong, one right and one half-right. To elaborate a bit on how those three actually came out:

  • When we wrote our Wednesday editorial saying that whoever lost this election, however narrowly, should concede as quickly as possible rather than dragging a nation at war through a repeat of the 2000 debacle, we actually were thinking Sen. Kerry would be the winner. We were fooled into that by exit polls (as well as the trends in polls over the last few days). But we were too careful to say so, and in any case, we meant it either way. And it should be noted to Sen. Kerry’s everlasting credit that he did graciously concede the victory Wednesday to the man we endorsed, President Bush.
  • While I criticized Rep. DeMint heavily for choosing to run as a hyperpartisan (despite his record as an independent thinker), there’s little doubt that that strategy was his key to victory. The president won South Carolina 58-41, and Mr. DeMint beat Mrs. Tenenbaum 54-44, demonstrating the power of the coattail effect. I congratulate him, and sincerely hope he now returns to being the thoughtful policy wonk he was before he wrapped himself in party garb in recent weeks.
  • The most gratifying result from Tuesday was the fact that Joel Lourie didn’t merely "eke it out," but won a decisive victory over Ken Wingate. I say that not because I wanted to see Ken defeated, but because I wanted to see the voters repudiate the anti-education outsiders who weighed in so heavily in his behalf. The people of District 22 should take great pride in what they accomplished Tuesday — not just for themselves and Joel Lourie, but for all of South Carolina.

Write to Mr. Warthen at

3 thoughts on “Are we partisan? Do our candidates win or lose?

  1. Gary Karr

    When tracking the data, do you factor in endorsements in races that aren’t really competitive? Surely you endorse some candidates who are virtually guaranteed (because of funding dominance or district demographics) going to win anyway. It might be more interesting to track what the State does in competitive races, though I should say that whatever the results, it ought not to have any impact on endorsement decisions.

  2. LexWolf

    I think you frame the issue the wrong way. You and the State may not be partisan in the sense of favoring either party (I haven’t checked your data but I’ll trust you) but you are undoubtedly biased in favor of Big Government and against the people. In fact that’s why I cancelled my subscription to your newspaper 3 or 4 years ago – I was sick and tired of the neverending stream of pro-government spin and bias. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you guys oppose any new government programs and boondoggles. Nor have I ever seen you in favor of pro-people things like tax cuts or abolition of useless programs. If it increased people’s freedom or the money they got to keep you guys wuz agin it. If it meant more taxes or more power for our bureaucrats, you invariably said bring it on. Sad but true.

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