Charleston  is run by the strong mayor form of municipal government, which means that the elected mayor, in Charleston’s case Joe Riley, has extensive powers, including the ability to veto a measure approved by the city council. In practice this means that a mayor, for better or worse, is able to stamp the city with his or her own vision—Riley’s influence can be seen in everything from the chichi Charleston Place to new low-income housing developments.
Savannah , however, is run by the council/manager form of municipal government, in which the mayor is but one vote out of many on the city council. Day-to-day operations are in the hands of an appointed city manager who answers to the council. In practice this means a generally more professional and objective approach to the nuts-and-bolts of government, but an often-frustrating lack of accountability at the top.
Because of both states’ strong rural roots, county governments are also very important, though becoming less so as urbanization continues and more areas consider city and county consolidation. In particular, county governments in Georgia hold great sway, in large part because there are so many of them! Visitors to the Peach State are often amazed by how small the counties are, and how many—159 in total. In practice this means that county governments hold a greater proportion of political power than in states where the counties are much larger in land area, like South Carolina.
For many decades, the South was dominated by the Democratic Party. Originally the party of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow, the Democratic Party began attracting Southern African American voters in the 1930s with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The allegiance of black voters was further cemented in the Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations.
The region would remain solidly Democratic until a backlash against the civil rights movement of the 1960s drove many white Southerners, ironically enough, into the party of Lincoln. This added racial element, so confounding to Americans from other parts of the country, remains just as potent today.
The default mode in the South is that white voters are massively Republican, and black voters massively Democratic. Since South Carolina is 69 percent white and Georgia 67 percent white, doing the math translates to an overwhelming Republican dominance.
However, the coastal areas covered in this travel guide, with their large, predominantly Democratic African American populations, function somewhat separately from this realignment. For instance, in 2008 both South Carolina and Georgia gave over 50 percent of their total vote to John McCain for president. But in Charleston County, Barack Obama received 54 percent of the vite. In Chatham County, Georgia, where Savannah  is located, Obama won nearly 60 percent of the vote.
But don’t make the mistake of assuming that local African Americans are particularly liberal because of their voting habits. Deeply religious and traditional in background and upbringing, African Americans in the Charleston and Savannah area are among the most socially conservative people in the region, even if their choice of political party does not always reflect that.
A few years back a sociologist proposed, partially tongue-in-cheek, that since the coastal regions of the Southeast have more in common with each other than with residents of other parts of their own states, the borders should be realigned to reflect this demographic, cultural, and historic affiliation. Anyone who has spent time in the inland areas of South Carolina and Georgia will immediately recognize the basic truth in this proposal, however unlikely it is to actually happen.
The simple, easily observable fact is that Charleston , Beaufort, Savannah , and Brunswick have far more in common with each other than Charleston has with, say, Spartanburg, South Carolina, or Savannah has with Macon, Georgia. I don’t know what you would name the state that resulted from the union of the coastal cities and towns, but I do know that the food would be awesome.
Georgia’s largest city and capital is Atlanta, which is even farther removed—both physically and metaphysically—from Savannah than Columbia is from Charleston. Indeed, Savannah and Chatham County are considered so different from the rest of Georgia that old-timers still call Savannah the capital of the “State of Chatham.”