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South Carolina Democrats take aim at Sanford in 2010

One year from now, S.C. Democrats will hold a referendum on Gov. Mark Sanford and lay the sluggish economy and high unemployment rate at his feet, as a field of largely unknown candidates compete for a chance to replace him.

Democrats hope a statewide grassroots network, set up by President Barack Obama, will get the anti-Sanford message out and help deliver voters to the Democratic primary.

Overall, the state's blue party says it's feeling upbeat about its chances in next year's election &mash; in no small part because of the term-limited governor.

"This state can't take another eight years of someone like (Sanford)," said Dick Harpootlian, former state Democratic Party chairman and a Columbia attorney who successfully sued to make Sanford accept $700 million in federal stimulus funds.

But unless other gubernatorial candidates step into the ring soon, the Democratic charge will be led by an underdog.

The candidates so far — Amos Elliott, a West Ashley pastor; Sen. Robert Ford, a Charleston developer; Mullins McLeod, a Charleston attorney; and Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Camden attorney — will travel the state to garner name recognition.

Also mulling a run are Rep. Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, the House minority leader, and state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex.

With the exception of Rex, all lack statewide name recognition.

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