Former South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Dick Harpootlian was elected to lead the organization again Saturday.
Harpootlian, a Columbia attorney who achieved national name-recognition during his first stint from 1998 to 2002, received slightly below 61 percent of the vote during the party’s convention. He finished ahead of Charleston political consultant Phil Noble (30 percent) and Marion County Democratic Party Chair Lee Jenkins (8 percent).
Harpootlian, well-known in South Carolina political circles for his sharp (and often controversial) tongue, immediately went on the attack after his election. He targeted Republicans who have controlled the state since 2002.
It’s been a total bust. So, it’s time for the people of South Carolina to wake up and say, “That Coca-Cola don’t taste so good, anymore. Maybe I ought to switch to Pepsi.”
He takes over for current chair Carol Fowler, who did not seek reelection. He inherits a state Democratic Party that is demoralized after getting swept in all of the statewide office races last year. Only one of the state’s six congressional seats is held by a Democrat, and Republicans currently enjoy supermajorities in both the South Carolina House and Senate.
Noble received much of his support among delegates of rural counties, who felt they had been neglected by the current party leadership. Delegates from those areas said they wanted to see more action at the “grassroots” level. Harpootlian answered, if the party is going to capitalize at the local level, it needs to build a better organization and fundraising base.
The grass roots don’t grow unless you fertilize it. The way you fertilize it is having the resources–money– to make sure they have the necessary equipment. There’s not a big enough volunteer organization, Republican or Democrat, in this state to do what needs to be done in a great field organization.
Some of Harpootlian’s rivals within the party, especially Noble, have accused him of being a “Columbia insider” who cuts deals with the Republican majority. Noble had proposed his own “5-point plan” to move the party forward.
Congressman Jim Clyburn, who officially nominated Harpootlian during the convention, pointed out that Harpootlian was successful in getting former Gov. Jim Hodges elected in 1998. Hodges is the only Democrat to hold the office in 24 years. Clyburn also took a swipe at Noble.
How did we do that? Not by writing white papers and laying out proposals. He did it by getting down and doing the grubby work of organizing, reenergizing, and raising the money necessary to get it done.
In a sign delegates may have upset with the party’s leadership, Fowler was defeated in her run for second vice-chair of the party. Berkeley County Party Chair Melissa Watson was elected to the post.