Originally created 11/05/02

Hodges, Sanford optimistic on Election Day



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Lines of absentee voters Monday gave way to lines at precincts across the state Tuesday as Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges and Republican Mark Sanford wrapped up the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in state history.

Voter turnout was moderate to heavy in much of the state Tuesday morning but was expected to slow somewhat as rain started moving in midday.

"We've had people coming in all morning. It's barely slowed down," said Martha Verner, a volunteer poll worker at Speers Street Elementary School in Newberry.

Hodges and Democratic leaders counted on heavy turnout among black voters and on convincing undecided voters to grant him a second term as he pushed his education improvement message, including more spending on school buildings and teaching initiatives.

Hodges' campaign spokeswoman Samantha Slapnik said the governor voted at 7 a.m. across from the mansion in downtown Columbia. He went on to make some phone calls and talk to radio listeners.

"He's feeling good about this," she said. "This is really a referendum on education."

Sanford, who served three U.S. House terms, also traveled the state Monday pushing his platform, which emphasized government restructuring, eliminating income taxes and redirecting money in the state's schools from administration to classrooms.

Sanford and his wife, Jenny, waited in line to vote at his Sullivans Island precinct about 30 minutes Tuesday morning before the poll manager moved him up to the front.

"It's been a long road. It's been a fascinating voyage for Jenny and I. It's one of those where you don't know what's going to happen, but you feel a peace about whatever happens," he said. "I think we have laid out a case for change, the need for change. Now it's indeed in the voters' hands and the good Lord's hands."

Bill and Eleanor Sommerville of Newberry canceled each other's votes Tuesday. He voted for Hodges, she for Sanford.

"I don't think that Hodges has accomplished in four years what the state has needed," said Eleanor Sommerville, 54, who works for the state Department of Social Service office in Newberry. She also liked Sanford's message of fiscal responsibility and need for change.

"I think he is a more independent thinker," she said. "I think he'll make some decisions independent of party lines."

Neither Sommerville agreed with Sanford's voucher plan, however.

Bill Sommerville, 52, has been an educator for 18 years and currently teaches history at Mid Carolina Middle School, a public school in Prosperity.

"Even though it (the voucher plan) will start off small, I think it would mushroom and cost the state money," he said.

Eleanor Sommerville said Hodges' sole focus on education has hurt other state employees. Budget cuts have left many state workers unemployed.

Hodges and Sanford raised about $7 million each for the campaign, according to reports filed two weeks ago. Most of their combined $13.85 million went into television ads.

With Sanford sailing out of the Republican runoff in June with a 60-40 win over Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler, Hodges wisely spent money shaping voter perception about his opponent, said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political science professor.

Sanford "was kind of the gilded one," Huffmon said. Hodges "needed to take some of the shine off that gild."

Hodges managed to blunt Sanford's momentum and now "they're battling for every single vote," Huffmon said.

"I think it's going to be a very, very close race," Sanford said Tuesday. "In American politics it is exceedingly difficult to beat an incumbent."

Part of the battle for both candidates included efforts to woo black voters.

The South Carolina Voter Education Project held 83 meetings around the state aimed at increasing registration and participation with blacks. The group expected blacks to account for 30 percent of the total vote Tuesday, and leaders said that would help Democrats.

"We think we've got a formula here to do it," said Jim Felder, the group's executive director. "This is the test run. ... If we're not successful, then we know what else we need to do next time."

Hodges attacked Sanford's plan to apply the state's sales tax to gasoline - a trade-off in Sanford's plan to eliminate income taxes - and worked to gain support for his ongoing education initiatives or foster fear of Sanford's education plan, which includes publicly funded vouchers for students in the state's worst schools to attend private schools.

Hodges courted independent voters who supported him in 1998 when he upset Republican Gov. David Beasley but rallied to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election.

Sanford routinely criticized Hodges' handling of state affairs, from budget woes to management of Cabinet agencies.