In tough year, local GOP rallies to keep faith

York County Republicans held a rally Wednesday night to rev up the party faithful before next month's election. For the first time in a long while, they actually needed it.

After a run of dominance that landed them all but one York County Council seat and nearly every state elected office, Republicans find themselves up against a competitive slate of Democrats and an unfriendly national climate.

That's why energizing the base this year has taken on added urgency. At Wednesday's rally, S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster took on the task by urging listeners to stand up against the national media.

"If you watch the national press, which some folks are starting to call the corrupt press, you'd think we've got a couple of morons running," said McMaster, widely expected to run for governor in 2010. "It is almost slanderous. But they're going to keep doing it."

Republican presidential nominee John McCain is still considered a virtual lock to win South Carolina. But Democrats believe a strong turnout for Barack Obama could help propel down-ballot candidates into office. Former York County GOP Chairman Henry Eldridge said it won't happen.

"The Republican Party has learned how to get the vote out," Eldridge said. "Every time we organize, we get better."

Adding to the challenge this year is that Republicans don't have a high-profile candidate rallying the base, unlike in 2006 when native son Ralph Norman narrowly lost the county in his unsuccessful run against Democratic Rep. John Spratt for U.S. House.

"There hasn't been any unified excitement the way we've seen in elections past," said Scott Huffmon, a political scientist at Winthrop University. "A lot of the races that conventional wisdom, in a normal year, absolutely go to the Republicans are a lot more competitive."

One example is in Fort Mill, where County Councilman Paul Lindemann's campaign has been overshadowed by his July arrest on drunken driving charges. He faces Democrat Marion Davenport and Green Party Bryan Smith.

Though county Republican Chairman Glenn McCall has called on Lindemann to resign his seat, the party allowed Lindemann to speak at Wednesday's rally. He talked about recruiting businesses to the Fort Mill area and restoring civility to council discussions.

"We have stopped the in-house fighting," he said. "We have brought this county a stability that is recognized in the state."

Newcomer Marvin Rogers, who is running for the District 49 House seat being vacated by Bessie Moody-Lawrence, said after the event that no matter what happens Nov. 4, Republicans should be able to learn some important lessons.

"Self-reflection is never a bad thing," he said.