Will winner of 1st Congressional District race give Beaufort County enough attention?

gsmith@islandpacket.comMarch 16, 2013 

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  • Here's a breakdown of registered voters for the district:

    Beaufort -- 100,381 voters (22.2%)

    Berkeley -- 89,763 (19.9%)

    Charleston -- 184,909 (41%)

    Colleton -- 873 (0.2%)

    Dorchester -- 75,458 (16.7%)

    Total -- 451,384 voters

    Source: S.C. Election Commission as of Jan. 6.

  • Go to Board of Elections and Registration, 15 John Galt Road, Beaufort or the Bluffton Annex, 61-B Ulmer Road, Bluffton

Beaufort County seems posed to receive little attention from the candidate who becomes its new representative in Congress.

Less than a quarter of 1st Congressional District voters live in Beaufort County. And a majority of the candidates hail from Charleston County.

It begs the question of whether Beaufort County might become an afterthought to Charleston County, where 40 percent of the district's voters live.

Several candidates say no and are vowing to be a strong voice for Beaufort County, pushing its issues just as hard as those of Charleston County and the three other counties that comprise the district.

The candidates face off Tuesday in primaries to represent the newly drawn district.

"I think having a congressman who lives in (Beaufort County) and who you run into at the Publix on the weekend and can bend their ear would be a huge thing," said state Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head, the only candidate who lives in the county who is banking on a strong Beaufort County turnout Tuesday.

Patrick adds that it's been 110 years since Beaufort County's congressman lived in Beaufort County: U.S. Rep. William Elliott, a Beaufort attorney and lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army.

A Beaufort County-focus might give a candidate a slight upper hand Tuesday, speculate S.C. politicos.

With so many candidates from Charleston battling for their piece of that county, a candidate who can bite off the biggest chunk of Beaufort County has a shot in Tuesday's race.

And unlike some of the other counties in the district, Beaufort County voters come out in large numbers.

General election turnout usually hits or exceeds the state average, said Scott Marshall, executive director of the Beaufort County board of elections. And in voter-rich enclaves such as Sun City and Hilton Head Island, turnout can hit 80 percent in general elections.

Turnout is expected to be substantially lower in Tuesday's special election, but a robust Beaufort County vote will still pack a punch, say S.C. politicos.

THE BATTLE FOR BEAUFORT COUNTY

Patrick is far from alone in his appeal to Beaufort County voters.

John Kuhn, a former state senator who lives in Charleston and has law offices in Bluffton and in Charleston, is making the case, too.

"As Beaufort County goes, so goes my law practice," Kuhn said, adding that his Bluffton office, which has been open for five years and has served about 2,000 Beaufort County clients, is his biggest moneymaker. "Obviously, anything that helps Beaufort County is better for me. And that's why I'm pushing for improvements to infrastructure, to roads, to ports, to improvements that matter to the people of Beaufort County."

Kuhn said his polling shows him in a close tie with state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, for a second-place finish in Tuesday's GOP primary.

"I desperately need Beaufort County to help me beat Chip," Kuhn said. "Chip is from an old, old Charleston family, and that's where his roots are. He's not earning a living (in Beaufort County) and consequently is not in the community every month like I am."

Limehouse, who lives in Mount Pleasant in Charleston County, said Kuhn is partly right.

"I'm from an old Lowcountry family with roots in Beaufort County, too," Limehouse said, adding that the Limehouse crossroads community between Bluffton and Savannah was named for his ancestor.

But most important, he said, he's got a proven record of caring about the county, including leading efforts to secure hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Infrastructure Bank for widening U.S. 17 between Beaufort and Charleston counties and roadwork on the Robert Smalls Parkway in Beaufort.

Limehouse is a member of the infrastructure bank that funds large S.C. road projects. This legislative session, he also worked to get University of South Carolina Beaufort additional money and end its per-student funding formula that was one of the lowest among the state's teaching-focused public universities.

"That means more people graduating and more jobs for Beaufort County," he said. "I've done more for Beaufort County than all of the other candidates in this race combined."

SHARED PRIORITIES

Another leading candidate, Teddy Turner, who also lives in Mount Pleasant, said Beaufort and Charleston counties are interrelated, making it impossible to advocate for one without advocating for the other.

"Charleston and Beaufort are sister areas, and what we need to push will help both of them. That's strong military bases and tourism," said Turner, whose family has been active in Beaufort County for decades. His father, media mogul Ted Turner, owns St. Phillip Island and some land on St. Helena Island. Teddy Turner said he and his family visit the area often, and he enjoys sailing in Port Royal Sound.

He and Limehouse do not have campaign offices in Beaufort County but do have staffers working here. Both have said they would set up a Beaufort County office if elected. Kuhn has an elections office on Pinckney Colony Road in Bluffton.

The race's top Democrat, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, adds another item to the list of things she'd do to aid Beaufort County -- advocate for its waterways and natural environment.

"Beaufort County will have my attention without a doubt," said Colbert Busch, who added she would also open a Beaufort County office if elected.

DEEP ROOTS

In addition to Patrick, former Gov. Mark Sanford, the race's front-runner, has also lived in Beaufort County in recent years.

Sanford's father bought Coosaw Plantation in the northern part of the county in the 1960s. It's where Sanford and his siblings spent time growing up. His father is buried on the property.

Sanford has also lived on Sullivan's Island in Charleston County, and in Columbia while governor.

"Mark graduated from high school in Beaufort, and his mother, sister, and brother and families live there," said Joel Sawyer, Sanford's spokesman.

After his 2009 extramarital scandal, Sanford retreated to the Beaufort County farm. He now lives in the Dockside Condos complex in downtown Charleston.

"He ... has a real connection to that part of the district and its interests, like protecting its military installations, moving forward on a Jasper Port, and protecting quality of life," Sawyer said.

Sanford would not commit to setting up a Beaufort County office if elected.

Follow reporter Gina Smith at twitter.com/GinaNSmith.

Related content:

Mark Sanford leads polls for SC 1st Congressional District primary campaign, March 14, 2013

Former SC Gov. Mark Sanford leading in congressional campaign fundraising game, March 8, 2013

Congressional candidates spar over Sanford family's Beaufort County land sale, March 6, 2013

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