Heavily Democratic South Carolina this fall is experiencing something that has not happened since Reconstruction: A Republican has an excellent chance of being elected governor. As they get down to heavy campaigning two months before the Nov. 4 general election, Republican Carroll Campbell, a four-term United States representative, and his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Mike Daniel, are about even in the polls. The race, considered an indicator of the growth of the South Carolina Republican Party in the past generation, has attracted the attention of the White House.
``It's one of the three governors' races in the whole country where the President has campaigned so far,'' says Haley Barbour, director of the White House political affairs office.
A GOP gubernatorial victory would be considered a breakthrough in the traditionally Democratic Deep South, noted Earl Black, a University of South Carolina political scientist and a Democrat.
South Carolina Republicans ``have been building to this moment for a long time, when they could go head to head with the Democrats,'' said Charles Dunn, head of Clemson University's political science department and a Republican. ``Both parties have a great deal to lose and a great deal to win.''
If Mr. Campbell loses, it probably will be the last time the GOP will have such a chance in a long while, notes Don McElveen, South Carolina Democratic Party chairman.
For more than a century, with one exception, the winner of the state's Democratic gubernatorial primary has won the governor's seat. In what was considered a fluke by most, Republican Jim Edwards won in 1974 when Democrat Charles Ravenel was disqualified by the state Supreme Court on a residence requirement.
The Campbell-Daniel race is expected to be the most expensive in South Carolina political history, with a total of $4 million expected to be spent by both sides.
Although the Campbell organization is not saying how much it already has spent, $1.3 million was been raised from 6,881 contributors between Jan. 1 and Aug. 29. Nearly half of this money has come from individuals and organizations that contributed at least $1,000.
Daniel, meanwhile, has raised about $840,000 from around 3,500 contributors. His expenses are said to be $860,000 and he has a $200,000 loan outstanding.
``Sounds like Daniel might be in a bit of a fix,'' said Neal Thigpen, a professor of political science at Francis Marion College and a Republican. However, Daniel's camp maintains that the state Democratic Party, not the candidate, will finance some expensive campaign efforts, including get-out-the-vote drives and telephone banks. And Daniel is expected to raise up to an additional $1 million by election day, according to Bob Coble, Daniel's campaign manager.
While Campbell had no primary competition, Daniel had three opponents in the Democratic primary. Phil Lader, a former Winthrop College president, came in second with 27 percent of the vote, compared with Daniel's 47 percent. But Daniel did not have to face a runoff, since Lader said his campaign finances were depleted and a tough runoff would be divisive. The Daniel forces were joyous that they did not have to go through a runoff, which would have cost some $150,000.
``Never in our wildest dreams would we have thought we would be in this united a position in the party,'' said Mr. Coble when Daniel was certified as the nominee.
Campbell is hiring more staff members and planning massive advertising in an attempt to offset Daniel's greater name recognition.
Vice-President George Bush is expected to campaign for Campbell. Lee Atwater, a Bush adviser and a South Carolina native, is helping Campbell.
Daniel also has Washington-based polling and media consultants working for him.
The issues are yet to be defined. But observers agree both candidates have the political expertise and potential statewide appeal to produce a fierce electoral contest.
``It's going to be one of those campaigns where if either candidate makes a serious mistake, the other could tear him open,'' Mr. Thigpen said.