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Democrat Tenenbaum counts on split-ticket voters in Senate race

Democrat Tenenbaum counts on split-ticket voters in Senate race

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COLUMBIA — Josh Raffini likes to vote for the best candidates instead of following a particular party line on the ballot.

On Tuesday, he plans to vote for Republican President George W. Bush as well as Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Inez Tenenbaum.

Raffini, a 22-year-old insurance salesman from Spartanburg, is just the kind of split-ticket voter Tenenbaum is counting on to help her win the state's open Senate seat.

South Carolinians have been splitting their tickets for decades, electing a Republican and a Democrat to represent them in the Senate.

Raffini wants that trend to continue. "One of the things I like about Inez is we've had a Republican and a Democratic senator for so long that I like that balance for South Carolina. I think it's good for us," he said.

These days, it's not an easy task for a Democrat to get elected to statewide office in this Republican-rich state, which is expected to deliver eight electoral votes for Bush on Tuesday. Tenenbaum, however, has been elected state education chief twice.

If Republican Rep. Jim DeMint wins the Senate race, it will be the first time since Reconstruction that the state has had two GOP senators at the same time.

For most of the past 40 years, Republican Strom Thurmond and Democrat Ernest "Fritz" Hollings had been the state's senators. Thurmond retired two years ago and was replaced by former Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Hollings will retire after this year.

"The reason the Republican Party has become so strong in this state is not because of a Republican voting for the Democrats, it's Democrats voting for Republicans," DeMint's campaign manager Terry Sullivan said. "That's what a lot of people miss when they talk about ticket-splitters in this race."

DeMint's campaign has worked to remind voters that despite the fact that Tenenbaum calls herself independent, she's still a Democrat and is tied to leaders of the national party.

Raffini, who says he usually votes Republican, is not swayed by that argument.

"I see her as a very moderate Democrat," he said. "I see nothing in her resume or what she stands for now that would make me see otherwise."

Raffini also says he's unhappy with DeMint's stance on trade and tax reform.

"I'm very much against outsourcing," he said. "I think his call for reformance of income taxes is premature, too. It's just not going to work right now."

While political observers say DeMint has the advantage of riding Bush's coattails, he is competing with an aggressive opponent.

"If it had not been a presidential election year, and you didn't have that getting intertwined in the Senate race, I think she'd be in," Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen said of Tenenbaum.

"She's just got to get enough of independently minded Bush voters to come across and vote for her," Thigpen said. "She's a spunky lady. She's done better than I've seen other people do."

On the campaign trail, Tenenbaum always gets a cheer from the crowd when she calls on support from her "GRITS," or Good Republicans for Inez Tenenbaum, a phrase her campaign coined to focus on the state's tradition of split-ticket voters.

"The way she runs her campaign reflects her belief that partisanship interferes with progress," said Tenenbaum's campaign spokeswoman Kay Packett, who said Tenenbaum has encouraged South Carolinians to choose her regardless of who they support for president.

Traditional Republicans are tied to the party by economic issues or socially conservative issues, said historian Jack Bass, a College of Charleston professor.

Tenenbaum has talked about her conservative views on several social issues; she favors the death penalty, supports a ban on gay marriage and agreed with Bush on the decision to invade Iraq.

DeMint has stuck to the traditional GOP message of family values, touting his conservative credentials in this Bible Belt state. He supports the Ten Commandments in schools and opposes any form of abortion, including cases of rape or incest, and opposes a ban on assault weapons.

But he may have turned off some swing voters, political experts say, when he said openly gay men and women should not teach in public schools and followed it up a few days later saying unwed mothers are unfit to stand in front of a classroom, too.

"I think there will be some Republicans who are strong Republicans who definitely would vote for Bush but feel some unease about these social issues that DeMint has raised," Bass said.

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