Democrats add 2 South Carolina incumbents to the ‘Spotlight’ program to challenge GOP stronghold

South Carolina Democrats face what is often referred to as the “trifecta” — Republican majorities in the Legislature, a Republican Governor and GOP control among Cabinet-level statewide positions.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) is seeking to change the status quo in South Carolina, where it has added two incumbents to its Spotlight program to protect those seats while chipping away at majorities.

The candidates include Sen. Vernon Stephens in Senate District 39 and Rep. Heather Bauer in House District 75.

Stephens is seeking re-election to the Senate, where he has worked to pass legislation — or as is more often the case, soften what Democrats view as bad legislation — to benefit teachers, students and families. Prior to serving in the Senate, Stephens served as a School Board member and as President of the Bowman Branch NAACP.

Stephens faces Republican Tom Fernandez in the SD 39 located west of Charleston. Stephens will be the favorite going into the General Election, with nearly 48% of the district’s voters registered as Democrats, compared to just under 41% Republicans. That’s under proposed legislative district boundaries for 2024. Current boundary makeup is largely the same.

Bauer represents HD 75 just outside the state capital. It’s a much more competitive district, with current boundaries favoring Republicans by about 5 percentage points. Proposed new boundaries are virtually the same.

Voter registration data for both districts comes from the most recent reports from L2 data mapping.

Bauer just flipped the seat for Democrats in 2022, now Republicans are looking to reclaim it. Kirkman Finlay won the Republican Primary over Tracy Robins to take on Bauer in November. He’s who Bauer defeated two years ago.

“The DLCC proudly spotlights these dynamic Democratic legislators who are at the forefront of the fight against Republican control in South Carolina. Supporting Democrats’ battle to chip away at GOP power is part of the DLCC’s mission to build Democratic influence at the state level across every corner of the country,” DLCC President Heather Williams said.

“Now is the time to gradually chip away at state Republicans’ entrenched power and build the infrastructure to check the GOP’s unchecked MAGA agenda. These strong incumbents in South Carolina are leading inspiring campaigns that offer a brighter vision for communities in the Palmetto State.”

Republicans currently hold a supermajority in the House and a majority in the Senate. The DLCC says the GOP control over state government has “been hostile” to South Carolina residents’ freedom, including on abortion, which is expected to again be a top issue nationwide this election cycle two years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the landmark Roe v. Wade case delivering federal protections on abortion access.

The addition of the two South Carolina candidates is in addition to the DLCC’s broader “Summer of the States” campaign launched last week to raise awareness for Democrats’ opportunity to erode GOP power in red states this year.

Donald Trump and his MAGA allies are plotting to use state legislatures to take away our rights,” a website for the campaign reads. “This summer, we’re mobilizing the money and resources needed to stop them and helping to elect Democrats who will defend our fundamental freedoms and protect our democracy.”

That campaign is working to protect Democrats in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, where Republicans are threatening legislative majorities; build power in Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina and Wisconsin, where the battle for power is close; and celebrating victories in Virginia, where Democrats recently gained control.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. In early 2022, she left the business to serve as Communications Director for St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch. After leaving the administration, Janelle briefly worked as a communications consultant for candidates, businesses and non-profits, before accepting her position as Publisher for Southeast Politics, a homecoming of sorts to her Florida Politics roots, where she served as a reporter and editor for several years. Janelle has also held roles covering the intersection of politics and business for the Tampa Bay Business Journal and general assignment news with an emphasis on social justice and climate change for WMNF Community Radio, where she also hosted a political call-in show under several names, including Last Call, Midpoint and The Scoop. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected]

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