When dawn broke on 1990, Gov. Carroll Campbell was favored to win a second term. As the election draws near, Campbell remains favored, but hardly anything else is the same.
The 1990 campaign perhaps resembles no other election in state history. It became that way because of two key events that happened in the summer, long before most state voters began to think about Tuesday's election.The first came in June, when state Sen. Theo Mitchell of Greenville made history with his easy capture of the Democratic nomination for governor. He became the first black to win a major party's nod for the state's top post.
And then in late July, every candidate's campaign changed forever.
FBI agents sifted through campaign records at the State House and began interviewing lawmakers. It was the first public leak about ``Operation Lost Trust,' the investigation into bribery and corruption that so far has led to the conviction of five lawmakers and a lobbyist.
The sting, as political observers in Columbia call it, has preoccupied much of the news for more than three months. Candidates trying to talk about other issues found themselves fogged out.
``Some campaigns found their anticipated messages overcome and overshadowed by the focus on the weakness in the state's ethics and lobbyists regulations and statutes,' said Charles T. ``Bud' Ferillo, a public relations executive and Democratic strategist in Columbia.
The sting generally helped challengers, many of them Republicans who tried to point out that incumbent Democrats had run the system that at least appeared to be corrupt.
The scandal especially boosted Republican Jim Miles' campaign against Democratic Secretary of State John Campbell, who critics say has been lax in regulating lobbyists.
But its effect on voters remains unclear. Many predict a record low turnout, a depressing thought in a state whose voters already show no widespread interest in who governs them or how.
The sting also gave resonance to Gov. Campbell's call for government reorganization, which before the sting broke the governor had promised to emphasize during the campaign.
Campbell ended his re-election bid trying to convince voters to give him a mandate to change government in South Carolina. With the lopsided victory he seems assured of getting, he might be able to roll over a scandal-scarred Legislature.
But the Campbell campaign emphasized few other issues during the election drive. The 50-year-old governor broke little new ground, instead choosing to campaign on what he had done during the past four years in education, environment and economic development.
Mitchell, by many accounts, spoiled his historic nomination with a disorganized and unfocused campaign. Democrats complained about a candidate that refused to listen to advice and ignored offers of help.
Together, Campbell and Mitchell took away from voters their only chance to compare them on the same footing.
When Campbell picked up two surprising endorsements from black groups, Mitchell called the governor's black supporters ``house niggers' and other racial epithets. Campbell responded to the remarks by canceling the campaign's only scheduled debate.
Mitchell continued on his campaign, criticizing Campbell continuously. Voters may have understood Mitchell would govern differently from Campbell, but Mitchell gave them few clues as to exactly how.
When voters go to the polls Tuesday, they may send Democrats a clear message that their century-old dominance of state government has ended. Republicans could win as many as four of the nine constitutional offices, including governor.
``We're seeing the Democrats at maximum weakness, the Republicans at maximum strength. With Campbell's coattails out there, it presents the opportunity for a tremendous Republican breakthrough,' said Earl Black, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina.