|South Carolina Incumbent Faces Strong Challenge|
South Carolina's Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges faces a challenge in securing his seat for another term, with former Congressman Mark Sanford, a Republican, gaining ground through his stance as a moderate. Sanford has developed a strong voter base in the Low Country's coastal counties, traditionally among the less Republican-leaning areas of South Carolina.
The Up Country, meanwhile, traditionally tends to vote Republican. Should Sanford succeed in rallying the coastal counties' support, Hodges may be left without a significant Democratic stronghold anywhere in the state.
Sanford and his Republican opponent Bob Peeler took 39 and 38 percent of the vote respectively and went to a runoff election; Sanford won the runoff with a wide margin: 59 to 41 percent. In an attempt to offset Sanford's momentum, the National Journal reports that Hodges' campaign has combed through Sanford's House voting record in an attempt to convince viewers his decisions are not right for South Carolina.
On the flip side, for Hodges to keep his seat, Democrats are attempting to keep hold of the swing voters who were central to Hodges' win in 1998. The two candidates are running nearly neck-and-neck, with a Zogby poll released Oct. 13 putting Hodges barely ahead with 45 percent to Sanford's 43, a lead well inside the 4 percent margin of error.
Hodges is trying to maintain his approval with the state's African-American voters, 90 percent of whom gave him their vote in 1998. However, it's possible the number of black voters heading to the polls may not remain as high as in 1998, when the divisive issue of the Confederate flag flying over the state Capitol was under discussion.
Sanford has been meeting with black officials and visiting black churches in his effort to win African-Americans' support. Hodges has also focused on education, saying he has made increased education spending his top campaign issue and suggesting Sanford would be bad for South Carolina's public education system.
Hodges is promoting his "Next Steps" education plan, in which he proposes raising teacher's salaries to the national average. The Democrat also wants to see more nationally accredited childcare programs in South Carolina.
Education has been a focal point for Sanford throughout the campaign as well. He proposes school vouchers, which he calls "education passports," that would allow parents to send their children to private schools. Each voucher would provide $3,500 toward a child's tuition at a private school.
Hodges has criticized Sanford's plan, known as SMART Funding, "Streamlined Management and Accountable Resources for Teaching." South Carolina's newspaper The State quotes Hodges' manager Jay Reiff as calling the plan "yet another permutation of Sanford's education plan, another attempt by Mark Sanford to hide his real feelings toward public schools."
According to The State, Reiff continued on to say, "Sanford has never attended a public school and refuses to send his children to public schools." The plan came under fire from Hodges during the October 3rd debate, when Hodges told Sanford: "Your voucher proposal, congressman, is an empty promise."
Sanford's camp, however, has questioned Hodges' call for new teacher funding, citing problems with the state's economy. "We don't disagree with anything the governor is saying about his goals for education," Sanford's press secretary Will Folks said. "The problem is that when your state budget is so far out of whack that no economist in the state predicts you will even come close to meeting growth estimates, any talk of new spending is just election-year politics."
With the candidates continuing to run neck and neck, it remains to be seen who will pull ahead in the final days before the election.
. --By Jessica Moore, Online NewsHour