South Carolina: The Christian Right Wins One
James L. Guth
Early in the 1994 campaign, South Carolina Democratic humorists quipped that only two skills were required to win a Republican gubernatorial nomination: speaking in tongues and handling snakes (Carney 1994). The reference, of course, was to the expanding role of conservative Protestants in the state's Republican Party. Ironically, the winning Republican candidate for governor was a Southern Baptist who neither practiced glossolalia nor played with reptiles.
Unfortunately, Democratic strategists understood the dynamics of conservative Protestantism no better in South Carolina than elsewhere, and on November 8 the joke was on them. David Beasley, a born-again Southern Baptist (but converted in an independent fundamentalist church), received strong backing from pentecostal and charismatic activists and votes from conservative Protestants of all stripes in first winning the GOP gubernatorial nomination and then defeating a popular Democratic lieutenant governor for the state's top post. Beasley's success proves that identification with a Christian Right movement organization is not always an insuperable barrier to political success, but his victory also brings into focus the broader role of conservative Protestants in South Carolina's continuing development into one of the nation's most Republican states. At the same time, the race demonstrates the complexities of Christian Right politics, highlighting the religious heterogeneity of the movement and the difficulties of managing that diversity.
South Carolina has long been one of the "buckles" on the Bible Belt, dominated primarily by conservative Protestants, especially Southern