FORT LAWN, SC — South Carolina state Sen. Mike Fanning enjoys conversation. He will chat about anything, but if the Great Falls Democrat steers the subject, he won't mention Washington.
Fanning thinks public officials should focus on making a difference, but he also needs to survive. Fanning is one of a shrinking number of Democrats in a party that has lost 31 straight statewide elections in a state hosting the first Democratic presidential primary of 2024. South Carolina, where a critical GOP contest is held later in February, has long practiced southernism by voting for a yellow dog before pressing a lever marked “R.” The mythical dog now votes Republican.
That means Democrats must work harder than ever. Perhaps more crucially, they must differentiate themselves from national counterparts. Fanning drives his 1970 Chevrolet pickup truck virtually every weekend to explore a region from Charlotte's suburbs to rural countryside north of Columbia.
SC differs politically from its neighbors. Georgia has two Democratic senators and North Carolina a Democratic governor. South Carolina is reversing course. The Republican governor won 2022 by 17%. The state's lone Democratic congressman, Jim Clyburn, represents a predominantly Black district for 31 years. Fanning's three county councils are Republican-dominated, but that doesn't change his mind.
Recent history shows that South Carolina Republicans are more organized and wield their authority better. GOP districts are drawn to dominate. Republican party officials and volunteers flood local elections when they perceive an opportunity. Their state leaders may persuade Democrats to switch sides and provide figures demonstrating one excellent Republican opponent might terminate a Democrat's decades of public service.
Fanning's state Senate district hasn't sent a Republican to Columbia since Reconstruction. The teacher and school executive won reelection by 3 percentage points in 2020 and added one of the state's fastest-growing and reddening districts to his district.
Democratic success is rare even with corporate executives. In the state Senate, where Republicans have a 30-16 majority, a hate crime law has corporate support but is stalled. Inertia left South Carolina and Wyoming the only states lacking such a statute, with no rationale. After Democrats objected, Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey replied, “Respectfully, if we have folks on the left who don’t like the agenda that is being set, go out and win a fricking election
Home is where Fanning performs most of his hard lifting. He attends every street festival, back-to-school party, family reunion, chamber of commerce conference, and road-naming in hopes of winning another. Work never ends. In the summer, he jumped out of his unair-conditioned truck, dubbed “Ole Yella,” for the first of 10 stops on a hot Saturday and ran to the Old Town Market booths in Rock Hill.
STAY TURNED FOR DEVELOPMENT