Looking back over the pictures I shot tonight at Vincent Sheheen’s victory party, the thing that strikes me is that I actually have a couple of shots of the normally low-key, unassuming Sheheen with a supercharged, 1,000-watt grin. (C. Aluka Berry, standing right next to me, got an even BIGGER grin over at thestate.com.)
And why not? He was the night’s big winner.
Maybe y’all saw this coming; I certainly didn’t. I thought if anybody won all the marbles for a gubernatorial nomination tonight, it would be Nikki Haley. If you look at polls from recent weeks, the trend was up and up for her, at a meteoric pace, with the last poll showing her at 43 percent, with a bullet. By contrast, the best the slow-but-steady Sheheen had shown in a poll was 36 percent. And that was in a three-way race (really, a two-way), while Nikki was posting those numbers pulling away from a field of four.
So it was that I was worried I was driving away from the REAL story tonight by heading over to Camden, but it turns out that’s where the Big Mo of the night was, while Nikki — while posting better than her polling numbers — found herself in a runoff with the lackluster Gresham Barrett (yeah, the guy in the painfully strained, goofy drill sergeant ad).
Republicans will comfort themselves that they had more than twice the turnout, but good Lord, I expected them to do better than THAT. Look at all the hotly contested races they had, at every level. While Democrats (at my polling place, anyway) had the governor’s race, plus a nearly invisible two-way competition for the office they have owned, superintendent of education, and oh yes — they got to choose (yawn) who would get to lose to Jim DeMint in the fall. Y’all know what a hard time I had deciding to forgo having a say in all those GOP contests (and only chose a Democratic ballot in the end because I felt so strongly that Vincent was the right man for governor– and I wanted to cast a positive vote for that office); I’m sure most independent voters (and a few Democrats as well) struggled with that same calculation.
How did Vincent do it? Well, I know what y’all are thinking — it was my last-minute endorsement, and the ad he bought on bradwarthen.com. (You’ll note that Rick Quinn and Seth Rose also came out on top, obviously for the same reason — the ads — and Scott Winburn would have won, but he and Seth couldn’t both do so.)
But I think there were other factors at work, too. I cited some of them last night. And I think Nikki Haley, once she’s done soaking up all this free media of recent days, is going to find Vincent a tough opponent in the long haul. And Vincent is going to find her a really energetic, talented campaigner who will shine on the stump as the uglier memories of this embarrassing GOP primary (which now has two more weeks to go) fade.
This is going to be a great election for our next governor.