SC candidates wrap up push, rally supporters

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS/AP) - The two leading candidates for governor spent the last full day of campaigning on the road or in the air. Republican Nikki Haley and Democrat Vincent Sheheen both passed through the Midlands, and both sounded optimistic about their chances.

In the governor's race, Republican Nikki Haley faces Vincent Sheheen, who is trying to take the state's top post for Democrats after eight years of contention between Gov. Mark Sanford and the fellow Republicans who control both legislative chambers. If Haley wins, she would also be the state's first Indian-American governor.

Also on ballots is U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, who is running for re-election against an unemployed military veteran, as well as candidates for the state's schools chief, lieutenant governor, top prosecutor and other statewide offices.

Polls open Tuesday at 7:00am. But voting already has been heavy as people cast absentee ballots at record levels for midterm elections.

Nearly 147,000 voters had cast absentee ballots as of Monday, according to the state Election Commission. Nearly 10,000 additional voters had requested absentee ballots but had yet to return them. They have until 7 p.m. Tuesday to do so. People can vote absentee in person at county election offices through 5 p.m. Monday.

The most recent high point for midterm absentee voting was 2006, when 75,651 ballots were cast as Sanford easily won a second term. But absentee voting has been higher in presidential contests. The record was set in 2008, when nearly 342,400 South Carolina residents voted absentee.

Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire credits the increase partly to better awareness, as the agency, candidates and parties made a point to educate voters on how to vote absentee. "The other possibility is that voters are energized about voting in this election," he said. "If voters are excited about voting absentee, hopefully they're excited about voting on Election Day. We hope the enthusiasm will carry over."

In congressional races, state House Rep. Tim Scott could become the first black Republican congressman from the Deep South since the 1800s. He faces Democrat Ben Frasier, a perennial candidate who is also black.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson is trying to keep his seat in what's become the costliest House race in state history. He faces Rob Miller, a former Marine captain, for the second time. Wilson's "You lie!" outburst last year as President Obama gave a health care speech to Congress sent cash pouring into both of their campaigns.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. John Spratt is seeking a 15th term in a tough re-election bid against state Sen. Mick Mulvaney. Spratt, chairman of the House Budget Committee, is trying to hold on in a district that's become more Republican as parts of it became suburbs for Charlotte, NC. "It's probably the hardest fought of the 15 elections I've faced," Spratt said after rallying campaign workers this weekend.

On Monday, candidates were making a final push for voters. Haley was wrapping up a weeklong bus tour, and Sheheen was flying around the state.

Haley's get-out-the-vote tour had her making stops in Lancaster, Camden, Winnsboro and Newberry. She's ending in Gilbert, where the Lexington County GOP is putting on a big rally for candidates.

Haley got a warm welcome from dozens of supporters waiting at the Camden Chamber of Commerce headquarters. Haley might be ready to wrap up the campaign, but she still had time for a brief rundown of her talking points and a dig at those who would stand in her way. "Our days of electing people because they look good in a picture or hold a baby well are over," said Haley. "If they don't fight for you, we're getting them out."

Sheheen started the day with a news conference and rally in Columbia before flying around the state, including stops in Greenville, Charleston and York Counties. He planned a rally in Columbia on Monday evening.

Trailing in most polls, the Democratic state senator remained upbeat. "Tomorrow is the day that we get rid of this crowd," he told supporters. "Haley and Sanford and the rest of the crowd that have been driving South Carolina into the ground. Tomorrow is the day that we restore South Carolina to her rightful place of respect and dignity around this nation."

Sheheen predicted a surprise for national media he said have already crowned Haley as Tuesday's winner.

Three Republican nominees for other statewide offices were making eight stops together to push for a GOP sweep. The only post now held by a Democrat is state schools chief. Superintendent Jim Rex decided to run for governor instead of a second term and lost in the primary.

Mick Zais, the GOP nominee to replace him, is facing Democrat Frank Holleman. Zais is a retired Army officer and retired president of private Newberry College. Holleman, a Greenville lawyer, served in the federal education agency during the Clinton administration and helped launch South Carolina's First Steps agency that helps prepare children 5 and under for school.

Others joining Zais on Monday's tour are incumbent agriculture commissioner Hugh Weathers and Republican attorney general nominee Alan Wilson. Democrat Thomas Elliott is challenging Weathers, who is seeking a second full term after being appointed to the post in 2004. Wilson faces Democrat Matthew Richardson in the contest to become the state's top prosecutor. The winner will replace GOP Attorney General Henry McMaster, who ran unsuccessfully for governor.

In the lieutenant governor's race, voters will choose between Republican Ken Ard, a Florence County councilman, and Democrat Ashley Cooper, a Charleston lawyer.

Democrat Robert Barber, a restaurant owner and former legislator, is trying to oust Republican Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom and become the state's top accountant.

Republican Mark Hammond is running for his third term as secretary of state against Democrat Marjorie Johnson, a retired public relations executive.

Full election coverage begins Tuesday at 5:00pm on WIS News 10, and 10toGO! on your mobile phone. You can take part in our statewide live election blog starting at 7:00pm and stay with us all night for your first election results. We'll have crews covering every major race.

Related stories:

For all your election needs and an in depth look at your ballot, go to our politics page.

Copyright 2010 WIS. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this report.