WASHINGTON — The anti-incumbent mood sweeping the country — and two open seats — could produce more new faces in South Carolina's congressional delegation come next January than at any time since the post-Watergate upheaval of 1974.
The state will send at least two new lawmakers to Washington. They'll replace Republican Reps. Gresham Barrett, who's running for governor, and Henry Brown, who's retiring.
In the conservative Upstate, Rep. Bob Inglis is facing the political fight of his life with formidable opposition in the June 8 GOP primary.
"People are very frustrated with Congress," Inglis, a Travelers Rest Republican, told McClatchy on Thursday. "They are frustrated with their own financial circumstances. They're concerned about their job. They're worried about paying the mortgage. People are having real trouble in a very difficult economy. And incumbents' fortunes are tied to the economy."
Politico, a widely read newspaper and blog on Capitol Hill, recently put Inglis on its short list of six U.S. House members most likely to be voted out of office this year.
Inglis, in his sixth term representing the 4th Congressional District, has resigned himself to the near-certainly that he'll have to win a runoff election June 22 in order to keep his job. He believes his foe will be 7th District Solicitor Trey Gowdy.
In the largely coastal 1st Congressional District, a remarkable 11 Republicans are vying to replace Brown, including two scions of South Carolina political legends Strom Thurmond and Carroll Campbell Jr.
Paul Thurmond, a Charleston County councilman and son of the late senator, and Carroll Campbell III, a Columbia public relations firm owner and son of the late governor, are in a battle with S.C. Rep. Tim Scott of North Charleston for the right to succeed Brown.
Eight Republicans are running for Barrett's 3rd Congressional District seat, among them state Reps. Rex Rice of Easley and Jeff Duncan of Clinton.
Before the dust settles, there will all but certainly be three GOP primary runoffs June 22 to determine whether Inglis remains in Congress, and to decide who replaces Brown and Barrett.
Brown, a Hanahan Republican, is in the last year of his fifth U.S. House term. Barrett, a Westminister Republican, is nearing completion of his fourth U.S. House term.
Beyond the primary votes next month, the national political parties have targeted Democratic Rep. John Spratt and Republican Rep. Joe Wilson for defeat in the Nov. 2 general election.
The rematch between Wilson, a Lexington Republican, and Democratic challenger Rob Miller of Beaufort is among the nation's most well funded and closely watched races — thanks to Wilson's "You lie!" yell at President Barack Obama in September as he addressed Congress on prime-time TV.
Spratt, a York Democrat, will face state Sen. Mick Mulvaney, an Indian Land Republican, in November.
The rare mix in South Carolina of personal ambitions, retirement plans and broader political volatility create the improbable — but far from impossible — prospect that five newcomers will represent the state in Washington starting next year.
Only House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat who faces token opposition next month and in November, and Sen. Jim DeMint, a Greenville Republican with a lightly regarded general election foe, are considered near-shoe-ins to return to Congress.
Not since 1974, the first congressional elections after President Richard Nixon's resignation over the Watergate scandal, have as many as three new lawmakers gone to Washington from South Carolina.
Then, toward the end of an era when "Yellow Dog" Democrats dominated Southern politics, Democrat John Jenrette of Myrtle Beach defeated single-term incumbent Republican Rep. Edward Young of Florence.
Two other Democratic challengers — Ken Holland of Gaffney and Derrick Butler of Edgefield — replaced Democratic incumbents Tom Gettys of Rock Hill, who retired, and Bryan Dorn of Greenwood, who ran unsuccessfully for governor.
This year, an even 50 candidates are on the ballot to represent South Carolina in Congress, a high-water mark for the state.
That elevated figure reflects nationwide numbers, with a record number of congressional candidates seeking office in a time of political turmoil and heightened interest.
A total of 2,862 people across the country are seeking election to the U.S. House or Senate, according to the Federal Election Commission. That's a 20 percent increase from the 2,382 who ran in 2008.
Don Fowler, a USC political science professor and former Democratic National Committee chairman, said his party's majority will likely shrink in the U.S. House and Senate.
Fowler, though, rejects some analysts' predictions of massive Democratic setbacks and possibly even loss of congressional control.
"There's a lot of anti-incumbency sentiment around, but I don't think Republicans are going to inherit all of the benefits from that," Fowler said. "I'm a little more sanguine about Democratic prospects in the fall than a lot of people."
Richard Quinn, a prominent Republican consultant who's advising Attorney General Henry McMaster in his gubernatorial bid, said 2010 isn't a good year to be seeking re-election to Congress.
"I've never seen the kind of anger I'm seeing today in my polling," Quinn said. "And it's mainly anger toward Washington."