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Sen. Hollings Announces He Won't Seek Reelection

August 05, 2003|Elizabeth Shogren | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) on Monday announced his plans to retire from the seat he has held since 1966, increasing Republican hopes for broadening their majority in the South and in the Senate.

Even Hollings suggested that his departure could be good news for Republicans.

"It wouldn't be easy for anybody who's a Democrat in this state to get elected," Hollings said in Columbia, S.C., after announcing his intention not to run in 2004, according to Associated Press.

Hollings, 81, is the second veteran Democratic senator from the South to recently announce his intention to retire. Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who often votes with Republicans, said in January that he would not seek reelection in 2004.

Republicans, who hold 51 of 100 Senate seats, were encouraged by the news of another open seat in the South, where the GOP has been gaining strength.

Democrats quietly conceded their support in the South could be weak in the next election. At least two other Southern Senate seats remain in question because two Democratic presidential contenders -- Bob Graham of Florida and John Edwards of North Carolina -- have yet to announce whether they will run again for the Senate in 2004.

"Today's announcement by Sen. Hollings is a big loss for Democrats," said Sen. George Allen of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "They are now left in the unenviable position of having to defend two open seats in the South -- fertile territory for Senate Republicans."

Four Republicans -- U.S. Rep. James DeMint, former state Atty. Gen. Charlie Condon, Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride and developer Thomas Ravenel -- are already raising money and organizing their campaigns. But "without Fritz Hollings, the Democrats are starting from scratch, which makes this a great opportunity for Republicans," Allen added.

Democrats are trying to recruit Inez Tenenbaum, South Carolina's state superintendent of education, to run. Columbia Mayor Bob Coble has indicated that he is interested.

Democrats vowed to retain the seat.

"I'm confident that South Carolina will be eager to fill Fritz's seat with someone who shares his values, commitment and ideals," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said.

But Republicans have reason for optimism. As South Carolina's economy has grown over the last decade, its voters have become increasingly Republican. President Bush received 57% of the vote in 2000, and Hollings won his last two reelection bids by narrow margins.

Despite being elected seven times to the Senate, Hollings was the state's junior senator until the now-deceased Sen. Strom Thurmond retired last year. That made Hollings the longest-serving junior senator in history.

Hollings is known for having one of the sharpest tongues in Congress, and he has used it against members of both parties.

After President Clinton's relationship with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky tainted his popularity, for example, Hollings was quoted as saying: "Clinton's as popular as AIDS in South Carolina."

A fiscal conservative, Hollings served on the Senate Budget Committee longer than anyone else. In 1985, he co-sponsored the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-cutting bill, which imposed discipline on Congress and led to lower deficits.

He was so sure that the government's books would never show a surplus that he offered to jump off the Capitol dome if the Treasury ever reported one. He did not make good on that offer when the budget had a surplus from 1998 to 2001.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hollings' efforts shifted to transportation security. As chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, he supported switching airport passenger screening from private contractors to federal control.

He was against allowing pilots to take guns into cockpits but realized when the majority was against him.

"I am not the mother superior. Let them vote," he said.

Colleagues said they would miss his spark. "His wit and humor have livened up the most mundane of debates, but when he spoke, he always spoke loudest for those he represented in South Carolina," Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said.

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