Integration and Success?
JAMES L. GUTH
FOR ALMOST FOUR DECADES SOUTH CAROLINA HAS PROVIDED A MARvelous case study of the Christian Right's fortunes within the Republican party. The movement appeared earlier, manifested more variation, and sustained greater influence in the Palmetto State than almost anywhere else in the country. Indeed, the South Carolina GOP often is characterized as “dominated” or at least “strongly influenced” by the Christian Right (Conger and Green 2002). As a result, the Christian Right has established a firmer position within the Republican party in South Carolina and, perhaps, had greater electoral impact than in other states (Smith 1997).
The contemporary reality is more complex, however. As demographic changesvisibly erode the numerical dominance of conservative Protestants, Christian Right forces sometimes still clash with the GOP's business wing and seldom exhibit monolithic unity, especially in electoral campaigns. The price of the movement's integration into the party is a more pragmatic orientation among some activists that alienates them from more purist colleagues. Moreover, the Christian Right often has been constrained by external events or countermobilization by political opponents.
After briefly reviewing South Carolina's religious makeup, we review highlights of the Christian Right's history in the state, concluding with its successes and failures in the 2000 and 2002 elections. We then focus on the influence of Christian conservatives in the 2004 presidential contest and, especially, the crucial U.S. Senate contest to replace retiring Democratic Senator Fritz Hollings. These episodes reveal that although the electoral machinery of movement groups has broken down, Christian conservatives have become a vital part of the GOP's electoral majority.