Originally created 11/04/04

GOP tie key to DeMint victory



AIKEN - In the end, South Carolina's Republican-friendly political demographics were too much for Democrat Inez Tenenbaum to overcome and far stronger than Republican Jim DeMint's fumble-prone campaign, political professionals said Wednesday.

Mr. DeMint's 10 percentage point victory over Mrs. Tenenbaum in the Palmetto State's expensive U.S. Senate race was larger than expected, and observers said its proved both the value of President Bush's coattails and the value of endorsements from fellow Republicans - Gov. Mark Sanford and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.

That was enough to overcome Mrs. Tenenbaum's campaign performance, which professionals say was more focused than Mr. DeMint's and kept the Greenville congressman on the defensive.

"DeMint did not run a particularly effective campaign, but he won because he's a Republican and he was running in a presidential election year," said Clemson University political science professor Bruce Ransom. "When you factor everything in, you have to say this is a Republican state. ... Clearly, the numbers were against Tenenbaum."

Although South Carolina's new senator-elect repeatedly said he had to give voters a reason to choose him other than his party and his close alliance with President Bush, those were the trump cards he played in the final weeks of the campaign.

In whistle-stops and ads, Mr. DeMint made the contest a referendum on the popularity of Mr. Bush and proven GOP stalwarts such as Mr. Graham and Mr. Sanford, who cut an effective spot defending the embattled candidate.

In contrast, Mrs. Tenenbaum, in her second term as South Carolina's education superintendent, played to the state's preference for independent mavericks and distanced herself from her party's presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

"She understood the numbers," said Mr. Ransom. "If she ran as a Democrat, she didn't have a snowball's chance."

There is irony in Mrs. Tenenbaum's sales tax attack, notes University of South Carolina political science professor Blease Graham. While the sales tax issue got her within striking distance of Mr. DeMint, it wasn't enough to overcome her opponent's natural advantages, he said.

Reach Jim Nesbitt at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or jim.nesbitt@augustachronicle.com.

Republican Jim DeMint captured the U.S. Senate seat with 840,544 votes to the 689,369 votes won by Democrat Inez Tenenbaum.