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Brown leaves field open

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Henry Brown is out of the running for this year’s 1st Congressional District election and Republicans and Democrats are speculating about what the lack of an incumbent will mean for their chances at a victory in November.

Brown, 74, a Republican, has held the district for 10 years, though he came close to being unseated in 2008 by Charleston Democrat Linda Ketner. Brown won his fifth term with 52 percent of the vote.

Brown announced Monday that he won’t seek re-election, citing a desire to spend more time with his wife, children and grandchildren.

The news came as a shock to voters and officials in both parties, but for Democrats, who see opportunity in Brown’s decision, it was also a cause to celebrate.

“I think it’s an open seat now, just like with the governor’s mansion,” said Susan Smith, president of the Waccamaw Neck Democrat Club and executive committeewoman for the state Democratic Party. “Any time there’s an open seat, there’s always the possibility for all kinds of wonderful things to happen. It’s time for Democrats to step up and show people what we have.”

Smith criticized Brown for failing to reach across party lines, and said: “it’s time for him to step aside and give somebody else a chance.”

Hannah Cromley, chairman of the Georgetown County Democratic Party, said she’s confident the Democratic primary will produce a candidate capable of taking on the GOP’s nominee.

“We came close in 2008 and Democrats are poised to win in 2010,” she said.

While local GOP members said they are disappointed to hear the “Republican workhorse” is putting himself out to pasture, they’re confident they’ll be able to keep a conservative in Brown’s seat.

Brown’s close call in 2008 was a result of the “Obama factor,” the unusually large number of Democrats who turned out at the polls to get President Barack Obama elected, according to Tom Swatzel, chairman of the county Republican party.

“I think it’s a very good year for Republicans,” Swatzel said. “People are unhappy with the Obama administration and the latest polling information shows that Republicans are much more likely to turn out in November than Democrats.”

Swatzel cited a November excerpt from “The Daily Kos,” a liberal political blog, that said “two in five Democratic voters either consider themselves unlikely to vote” in the 2010 congressional election “or have already made the firm decision to remove themselves from the 2010 electorate pool.” The excerpt reported on a tracking poll on the blog Web site.

Swatzel said the county GOP will “rally around the Republican who wins the nomination in the primary and is going to continue to point out the need for a fiscal conservative in office.”

Jim Jerow, president of the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club said Brown has served the state and the country with dignity, honor and respect. His retirement “is a loss to us, because of the stature he’s gained in Congress, specifically in regard to transportation needs and veterans affairs needs,” Jerow said.

With Brown out of the running, Jerow isn’t sure who he’ll support in the primary. He’s not yet familiar with all the candidates, he said. But he is sure the party will produce a candidate who will be able to win in November.

Swatzel said he expects the removal of Brown’s name from the list of potential candidates will lead a number of other Republicans to consider joining Carroll “Tumpy” Campbell III and Katherine Jenerette in filing to run in the June primary.

Campbell is a businessman and son of a former South Carolina governor. Jenerette is a history professor and Army veteran.

Brown said he announced his plans now, so Republicans who have not considered running for Congress out of friendship or respect for his incumbency could consider their options and have adequate time to campaign.

Among rumored candidates are state Rep. Vida Miller of Hagley, a Democrat serving in her seventh term, and state Sen. Ray Cleary of Murrells Inlet, a Republican serving in his second term. Both deny plans to run, saying they are happy doing what they’re doing and have no desire to go to Washington, D.C.

Cleary said he believes Republicans will easily take the first district in November, but Miller said Brown’s decision opens the race up for a lot of possibilities.

“I think the state is becoming more Independent; people are becoming not so locked into party lines,” she said. “We’re in a time in our state and in our country where the people the government belongs to need people in Washington and in Columbia to go and work for them.

“I think rather than party affiliation, people will look for someone who’s going to do that, especially in our area. Folks are looking for people who come up with good ideas and have the ability to execute those ideas once they get to Washington.”

Miller has gained a reputation as a candidate voters are willing to cross party lines to vote for.

Republican Ron Charlton, a Georgetown County Council member, said he believes voters will be hearing more announcements like Brown’s in the future.

“I think this is just the start of it,” he said “A lot people who have been in office for a long period of time and are at the point where they can retire are not going to be running. People are fed up with the way Washington has been handling business here in the last several years and I think we will see a lot more [politicians] getting out of it.”

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