COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Republican Mark Sanford defeated South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges on Tuesday in a tight race that pitted plans to improve economic woes against ongoing programs to bolster the state's poor public education system.
The race was the most expensive in state history. Hodges and Sanford raised almost $7 million each for a combined $13.85 million in the campaign, according to reports filed two weeks ago.
Hodges, 45, was the only Southern Democratic governor up for re-election with a Republican-controlled legislature. Virginia Gov. Mark Warner is in the same situation, but he won't face voters until 2005.
With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, Sanford had 53 percent of the vote to Hodges' 47 percent. Turnout was well below 2000 levels and about even with that of 1998.
Sanford, 42, said he was "humbled by the size of the accomplishment that has taken place tonight." Two years ago, Sanford was honoring a term limits pledge, stepping down from serving the 1st Congressional District along the coast.
He was little known outside the district and experts said he had little chance of winning a statewide race because his ideas wouldn't boil down into sound bites. "I have a sound bite for those experts, and that is that they were wrong," Sanford said.
Hodges called Sanford to concede at 11:15 p.m. after watching a seesaw race play out on television. "We look forward to working with him," Hodges told supporters afterward. He gave the crowd two thumbs up as he left the stage with his wife and was ushered toward a waiting sport utility vehicle and a handful of tearful staffers. He would not talk to reporters.
White suburban voters cost Hodges the race, said Jay Reiff, the governor's campaign manager. "We got crushed there," he said. The campaign also counted on record black voter turnout, but didn't get it, Reiff said.
Poll managers around the state said turnout early Tuesday was moderate to heavy.
"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.
However, as rain set in, turnout started to drop, said Tom Boney, a poll manager in Blythewood. "We don't have as many elderly people as we usually have," he said.
The rain also played a role in how Sanford spent the last hours before claiming victory. He had planned to start the night with a brief stop in Columbia before heading to back to Charleston to watch returns with supporters, but bad weather made it too risky to land here, so Sanford headed back to the Holy City.
Alice Garner, a 39-year-old psychologist who works for Colleton County schools, said deciding who to vote for in the governor's race "was really tough" but she backed Sanford.
"The problem with Hodges is we have all these kids who aren't graduating from high school and yet we have all this lottery money going to higher education," she said.
Pamella Vodicka, a registered dietitian from Mount Pleasant, cast her vote for Hodges for governor and against Sanford's plan for publicly funded vouchers to get children out of failing schools.
"I don't believe in the idea of vouchers. Taking a kid out of a school that does not do well and putting him in a school that does well helps the kid but not the school," she said.
Hodges' concentration on education didn't play well with Curtis Branham, 65. Education is "our future," he said, "but there's also a present. ... There are a lot of things that need to be addressed," particularly the state's economy, the partially retired Blythewood man said.