U.S. Rep Joe Wilson isn’t thinking about the party make-up of his new district, said his spokesman Thursday.
“What the congressman hates most about the new map is he’s losing the people in Hilton Head and Beaufort, but he does enjoy picking up all of Aiken County now,” said Neal Patel, the Republican lawmaker’s spokesman.
“I don’t know if it’s more winnable or not. That, to him, is not a concern,” he added.
Translation: A safe Republican district is going to get even safer.
The once-a-decade redrawing of South Carolina’s congressional districts was completed by the state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate in July and signed by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday.
The plan, H. 3992, must win approval from the U.S. Department of Justice, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act, because of South Carolina and other Southern states’ past discrimination against black voters.
The 2nd Congressional District currently reaches north of Columbia, scoops eastern Aiken, Calhoun, Orangeburg and Richland counties, and drops down the Georgia border to the state’s southern tip in Jasper County. The new map, pending approval, will be more compact and clustered around a unified Aiken County, along with Lexington and Barnwell counties and parts of others.
While lawmakers frequently argued against splitting counties across two congressional districts, Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said Aiken County residents were better served by having both Wilson and Rep. Jeff Duncan, a Republican representing the 3rd congressional district, advocating for them.
“All the public testimony I heard was that Aiken enjoyed being split. They liked having two representatives that they could call on,” said Massey, one of only twoRepublicans in the South Carolina Senate to join with the Democrats in voting against the new plan.
“They liked having additional people to focus on the Savannah River Site and on energy,” he added.
“And none of this had anything at all to do with a negative outlook on Congressman Wilson. He’s been in Aiken, and the people here know him, but the folks also like Jeff Duncan.”
Massey said he also objected to the new map on the grounds that it carved Aiken County out of the 3rd Congressional District. He said removing Aiken County as a population anchor for the 3rd District could strip influence from the rural communities just north of Aiken County, situation at the southern portion of the district, namely Edgefield, Saluda and McCormick counties.
Nevertheless, Massey said it was possible the new map would lend the unified Aiken County more influence over the selection of the 2nd district's representative.
The new 2nd District is expected to be an even safer seat for Wilson in the 2012 election than it was in the last one, when Wilson defeated Democratic challenger Rob Miller by nearly 10 percentage points, and in 2008 by a margin of 54-46 percent.
But one local Democrat says the district’s less sprawling outline could end up helping a Democratic challenger who would probably have less money than Wilson.
“I think it’ll be easier for someone to run,” said Teresa Harper, first vice chair of the Aiken County Democratic Party. “I think it’ll help, being a more compact district. The candidate will have a chance to get around to more places and talk to people.”
Reach Sarita Chourey at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 727-4257