Originally created 05/18/98

S.C. GOP welcomes sheriff's exit from state race



COLUMBIA -- How does Lexington County Sheriff James Metts' withdrawal from the governor's race affect the campaigns of GOP Gov. David Beasley and Democrat Jim Hodges? It depends on whom you ask.

Sheriff Metts, a longtime Republican who said last year he would run against Mr. Beasley as an independent, dropped out of the race Saturday. Sheriff Metts, who made his announcement at the Republican state convention, hugged Mr. Beasley as the song We Are Family blared from loudspeakers.

"I entered the race to elect a Republican governor. It is now clear to me my candidacy might have undermined that goal," said Sheriff Metts, who worked for Mr. Beasley's 1994 campaign but grew disgruntled after being passed over for state government positions.

Mr. Beasley's aides said the two sides negotiated an agreement for about two weeks, spurred on by Milton Moore, a mutual friend in the Richland County GOP.

Without Sheriff Metts in the race, Mr. Beasley faces long-shot primary opponent William Able on June 9. The winner will face Democrat James Hodges in November.

So whom does Sheriff Metts' surrender help? Predictably, Republicans and Democrats disagree.

Sheriff Metts has been a Republican sheriff for years in a heavily Republican county, and had hoped to gather some support from right-wing Republicans who felt Mr. Beasley, a Democrat-turned-Republican, had strayed from his conservative message.

In a three-way race, the winner would have to get only 34 percent of the vote.

Democrats say Sheriff Metts would have been inconsequential in the election.

___7.84A December Mason-Dixon poll showed Beasley would receive 53 percent of the vote to Hodges' 23 percent, while Metts would get 7 percent. Seventeen percent of poll respondents were undecided.

The poll was based on statewide telephone interviews with 820 registered voters last week. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points.

Hodges spokesman Tim Shock said Metts' departure won't affect the race. "I hadn't seen any indication he was there for the long haul," Shock said.