THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Face time with candidates draws voters while filling coffers
By Jackie R. Broach
An opportunity to talk one-on-one with four of the five Republican candidates for governor made invitations to a GOP fund-raiser last week a hot ticket.
About 130 people attended the event at the Sea View Inn on Pawleys Island, raising more than $20,000 for the Georgetown County Republican Party through ticket sales and sponsorships, and giving candidates an eager audience.
The event opened with a chance for guests to mingle with candidates over hors d’oeuvres and drinks.
“This is one of the few times we’ve had something like this here. Before, it’s been everybody sitting in a room and listening to somebody talk,” said Bill Thompson, secretary of the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club. “This adds a little ambiance to it.”
Each candidate did have a chance to address the whole crowd, but attendees said they liked the face time.
“It means a lot to be able to talk to them this way,” said Roland Lambert, who attended with his wife, Lorraine.
When Roland realized that state Attorney General Henry McMaster failed to mention the Georgetown port in his speech, which included other ports in the state, he was able to pull McMaster aside and talk with him about it.
“It’s also a good chance to see them all at once and get an idea of who inspires you the most,” he said.
Lambert has his choices narrowed down to two.
Dan Stacy, a lawyer in Pawleys Island, said he was already familiar with all the candidates, but wanted to “hear from their lips what they’d like to accomplish.”
In addition to McMaster, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, state Rep. Nikki Haley and state Sen. Larry Grooms attended. Each used a different approach as they outlined their qualifications and plans for the state, but all mentioned tax reform and job creation.
Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who has said he will run, did not attend.
Barrett’s speech focused on turning the economy around by empowering businesses and making it easier for small businesses to thrive in South Carolina, while Grooms talked about job creation and looking to the future.
“Too many times we govern for today,” Grooms said. “This race isn’t about 2010. It’s about 2025 and 2050. It’s about the future of South Carolina.”
Haley talked about a need for more conservative state spending and increased accountability for lawmakers.
McMaster’s words centered on his experience and proven ability to get things done.
Leighton Lord, a candidate for state attorney general, and Ken Ard, who is running for lieutenant governor, also attended, taking advantage of an opportunity to network with Republican voters.
“I think this is a most pleasant way to start the season,” said Sue Campbell from a rocking chair on the inn’s back porch. The Ricefields resident was enjoying the food and an excellent ocean view while waiting for the candidate speeches to start. She wanted to hear what they had to say before meeting them and asking questions, she said.
“Being able to have a conversation with them is certainly a big plus,” she said. And she was glad to see so many people taking advantage of the opportunity.
“If people are not interested in what’s going on in this country right now, they probably never will be,” she said.
Chris Harden and a friend, Barbara Kee, both of The Reserve, said the event was a good opportunity on many levels.
“Both of us are relatively new to South Carolina and it takes a while to become comfortable in politics in a new place,” Harden said.
Although they attended the event to support the party, talk with other Republicans and familiarize themselves with all the candidates, they specifically wanted to meet Haley.
Funds raised by the event will be used to support the campaigns of Republican candidates in local races next year, including the battle for state House District 108.
The Republicans have tried unsuccessfully to oust Democrat Vida Miller since she was elected in 1996.
Two Republican candidates have announced plans to run: Jill Kelso, who challenged Miller last year, and Kevin Ryan, a Clemson University student.
Voters will have many more opportunities to meet candidates as the 2010 primary approaches, said Jim Jerow, president of the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club. He urged residents to take advantage of those chances and educate themselves before they vote.
He said the party believes it’s particularly important to keep a Republican in the governor’s office, and despite backlash from this year’s furor over Gov. Mark Sanford’s extramarital affair, Jerow said he believes the chances are good.
“I think voters in South Carolina are smart enough to realize Mark Sanford made a personal mistake and will still vote Republican and select the right candidate,” he said.
A fund-raiser scheduled for this week was postponed because of a special session of the legislature.
This will be the first time that the primary candidates from both parties will share the stage at the same time.
Hosted by the S.C. Natural Resources Society, the debate will have candidates discuss issues surrounding the Palmetto State’s natural resources, particularly in regard to conservation and economic development.