Originally created 06/27/04

Riveting race on tap



Three-term U.S. Rep. Jim DeMint did a remarkable job in turning the tables on former Gov. Jim Beasley in the runoff campaign to be the GOP's nominee for South Carolina's U.S. Senate seat this fall.

DeMint, who finished well behind Beasley in the first round of voting two weeks earlier, romped to an easy victory Tuesday, garnering nearly 60 percent of the vote. One of his strongest showings was in Aiken County, where he took 69 percent of the vote.

Even though South Carolina is considered a solid Republican state for George W. Bush over liberal John Kerry in the presidential race, DeMint won't be running against a liberal Democrat. He'll be running against the state's popular, personable education superintendent, Inez Tenenbaum.

Tenenbaum is running as that rarest of commodities - a moderate-to-conservative Democrat. She's covered her bases on abortion, character and values, and other hot-button issues conservative Republicans use to beat up on liberal Democrats.

Indeed, this race is no sure thing for Republicans, because the central issue may well be international trade. Both candidates are for "free and fair trade" - who isn't? - but their definitions are polar opposites.

DeMint, who voted for normalizing trade relations with China, favors expanding trade with that communist nation, and did not join most Southern congressmen in urging that U.S. quotas on Chinese textile imports, due to expire at the end of the year, be indefinitely extended.

Tenenbaum, who blames the loss of tens of thousands of textile jobs in her state on China's unfair trading practices, very much favors extending the quotas. She'd also be a lot warier than DeMint in signing onto any new trade agreements that Bush or Kerry might negotiate.

After all, she's bidding to succeed the Senate's most outspoken protectionist, "Fritz" Hollings. Tenenbaum says she wants to go to Washington to protect, as well as build on, South Carolina textile jobs. DeMint says protecting jobs doesn't create any new jobs - that he seeks to bring his state's economy into the 21st century.

He's got a unified and energetic Republican Party behind him. She's got a unified and energetic textile industry supporting her. This will be one of the nation's most widely watched races - and possibly decisive in determining which party will control the Senate. Let the donnybrook begin.