Originally created 04/24/04

Rulings counter GOP talk on filing



AIKEN - The South Carolina Republican Party's vow to keep the filing window open indefinitely until they find a replacement candidate to run against state Sen. Tommy Moore, D-Clearwater, contradicts a series of state attorney general opinions and a circuit judge's ruling this week that set limits on vaguely-worded state election laws.

A 1996 opinion by then-Attorney General Charlie Condon, now a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, said political parties needing to find a replacement for a primary contestant who dies or withdraws should reopen filing only for a "reasonable time" of two weeks, equal to the March filing period.

Mr. Condon's opinion reinforces earlier state attorney general opinions handed down in 1968, 1970 and 1972 that said a party's ability to reopen the filing period when a candidate drops out before a primary "is not absolute."

In addition, a Dorchester County judge on Thursday approved a compromise between the county's Democratic Party and state Rep. George Bailey, a St. George Democrat who switched to the Republican Party after filing for re-election with his former party. The ruling gives Democrats 20 days to find a replacement candidate.

By Mr. Condon's opinion, the state Republican Party ran out of time Friday to find a replacement for anti-abortion advocate Susan Swanson, who withdrew from a race against Mr. Moore on April 9. But South Carolina Elections Commission officials said they would accept a new Republican candidate because primaries are a "party issue."

"What they decide to do is their decision," spokeswoman Hannah Majewski said.

Because they're looking only for a single challenger, the June 8 primary isn't an issue, said Luke Byars, the executive director of the state Republican Party. Mr. Byars also said other Elections Commission officials said the party could keep the filing window open until Aug. 24, the deadline for printing ballots for the November general election.

Republicans hope to have a new candidate picked much sooner than that, Mr. Byars said.

Mr. Moore, who has sharply criticized Republicans for "manipulating" state election laws, didn't say much Friday.

"What begs the question is when does it start and when does it end," he said. "I'll leave that to them."

Reach Jim Nesbitt at (803) 648-1395 or jim.nesbitt@augusta.chronicle.com.