COLUMBIA -- Political experts say U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis has the most to gain after former Gov. Carroll Campbell decided last week not to run for the U.S. Senate.
Attorney and former Greenville GOP Chairman Stephen Brown also will run in the June primary.
"He has greater legitimacy among the rank-and-file. He has a congressional career, the political background," said College of Charleston professor Bill Moore. "There's no doubt that those who would have backed Campbell would prefer Inglis over Brown. The name of the game is winning. And Inglis is a much stronger candidate than Brown."
Atlanta-based pollster Whit Ayres, who conducted voter surveys for Mr. Campbell, also expects most fence-sitting party regulars to side with the six-year congressman from Greenville.
"He has credibility with both mainstream economic conservatives and social conservatives. He's an attractive candidate and has got the potential to beat (incumbent Democrat) Fritz Hollings."
In a Mason-Dixon poll of 313 Republicans last month, Mr. Inglis crushed Mr. Brown 38 percent to 2 percent in a primary matchup. However, 60 percent said they were undecided, strongly suggesting that GOP voters are up for grabs.
Warren Tompkins, a political consultant with close ties to Mr. Campbell, said the former governor's supporters are Mr. Inglis' to lose. "He needs to move quickly to gain their support, particularly the financial backers," he said.
Mr. Inglis has managed to anger some mainstreamers with his attacks on the party's "Southern strategy." He calls it racially divisive and morally bankrupt. Some Republicans, including state Sen. Arthur Ravenel Jr., R-Mount Pleasant, have defected to Mr. Brown.
"I didn't like Inglis attacking the Southern strategy," he said. "It's the thing that gave us control of Congress. It also has a lot to do with our show of strength down here. It has had a positive impact for Republicans all across the South. Don't attack something that's been successful. I thought that was very foolish of him."
Mr. Inglis has refused to back away from his criticism of the Southern strategy. He has pushed hard to reach out to black voters and warns the GOP it will be making a serious mistake if it writes off a third of the vote.
Mr. Brown, a Charleston native, is identified with the more conservative element of the GOP. His core support is made up of Republicans who supported Pat Buchanan for president, Confederate battle flag supporters and leaders of the Christian Coalition.