Outside or in? S Carolina Democrats have choice for governor
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Democrats in South Carolina face a familiar choice Tuesday when they choose their candidate for governor - do they pick a legislator trying to woo independents and some Republicans? Or do they go with a candidate outside the Statehouse less interested in moderation?
State Rep. James Smith is the front-runner, a veteran who went to Afghanistan and spent 22 years in the South Carolina House before stepping aside for a run for governor.
One opponent, Charleston businessman Phil Noble, who talks at about every appearance about his “big, bold and audacious ideas” for South Carolina, such as doubling teacher pay but having strict accountably goals in place to weed out poor teachers.
The other opponent, Florence attorney Marguerite Willis, said she was driven into the race by “the racist, sexist president of the United States” and said a woman is needed to take on the good old boy network and fight for better lives for women and the poor.
Republicans in South Carolina like outsiders. In The past two primaries with open seats, the eventual winner has charged from the outside and soundly beat the more established candidates.
Democrats have been the opposite. A legislator who has been the favorite from the start has won the nomination each election since 1998, while the GOP has won four governor’s races in a row as the state turns more Republican.
“Every time they nominate somebody who gives some rah-rah speeches trying to be Republican light and he gets beat,” Noble said. “How many more times do they have to lose before they figure out that doesn’t work?”
Each of those legislators who lost at the polls is a man, Willis said.
“Every four years they find a legislator - it’s his time; it’s never her - his time has come they all get behind him they all endorse him they push him forward and they lose,” she said.
That criticism missed a few important points to Democratic success: the party can’t win by turning off voters and electing someone without any experience in government, Smith said.
“We’ve seen what a lack of experience does in the White House. I think we want some experience here in the Statehouse,” Smith said.
All three candidates support unions, Medicaid expansion, better pay for teachers and other Democratic staples. They disagree on how to implement their visions. Noble talks about blowing things up and starting all over, while Willis and Smith take a more cautious approach of bipartisanship in a state where President Donald Trump received 55 percent of the vote in 2016.
In traditional political measures, Smith is well ahead. He has raised $1.1 million from individual contributors and $162,000 as the race heated up in April and May. Donors have given $171,000 to Wills, but just $40,000 in the past two months. She did loan her campaign $300,000 on March 30, but not given it any more of her own cash.
Noble has raised $207,000 from individual donors with $56,000 coming in the past few months.
Smith also touts his endorsements from a wide range of groups from the social activists in the South Carolina Progressive Network to the environmentalists in the Sierra Club to the gun control supporters at Moms Demand Action. Individually, Smith has support ranging from former Vice President Joe Biden to South Carolina’s only black congressman Jim Clyburn to the state last two Democratic governors and more than 20 African-American state senators and House members.
“I’ve brought this party together,” Smith said.
The Democratic race for governor in South Carolina also doesn’t look a lot like the party in the state. In the last contested Democratic governor’s primary in 2010, 59 percent of voters were black.
Noble has picked an African-American woman, educator Gloria Bromell Tinubu to be his lieutenant governor nominee, while Willis selected black state Sen. John Scott to be her running mate.
Smith selected a white woman, state Rep. Mandy Powers Norell. Women also made up 59 percent of the electorate in the 2010 vote.
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