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Steer left or center? Democratic candidates disagree

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Victory might not come easily for Democrats in the 2010 race for governor, but it can be achieved, candidates told supporters in Pawleys Island this week.

In brief speeches during a fundraiser at the home of Alan and Billie Houghton, four of the five candidates laid out their views on what Democrats need to do to win the state’s top office.

“Our candidates have said in the past that the only way to win is to run as far to the right as possible and the Republicans will jump the fence and vote with us,” said Mullins McLeod, a Charleston attorney. “Well, guess what, that didn’t happen and it’s not going to happen.”

The way to win in 2010 is for liberals to stand firm and not bow to conservatives, he told the crowd of about 60.

“It doesn’t take any courage to poke fun at Mark Sanford. What takes courage is standing up to the Republican Party on the issues. We’re right on the issues,” he said.

Dwight Drake, state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, also attended the event, hosted by the state Democratic Party.

Rex told voters the most important thing Democrats can do in the 2010 election is to show up. A lot of Republicans are hoping the 2008 election “was a blip and not the beginning of a shift,” he said, asking voters to prove them wrong.

“You’ve got to show up. It’s not only critical for our state, it’s also important for our party. A rash of Republican victories next year including the race for governor could mean “we will see an end of the Democratic Party in this state for at least a decade,” he said.

Rex asked voters to “think about who the best candidate is, but also who is most likely to win, not just in June, but in November.”

Rex said he has already proven an ability to run at a state level and win. He was elected state superintendent of education in 2006, the only Democrat elected to a state office that year.

He said he knows some people won’t want to hear it, but for a Democrat to win the governor’s race, “they’re going to have to convince independents and even some Republicans.”

The good news about that for the Democratic Party is “there are a whole bunch of disgruntled Republicans right now.”

Sheheen, who was making his third appearance before Waccamaw Neck Democrats since announcing his campaign, focused on the needs of the state.

“We’ve got to do big things for this state,” he said.

Job creation is a must, and the state needs to pay attention to small business development and “green collar” jobs. A division of small business should be created in the Department of Commerce and the state should have a plan for alternative energy, he said. He also talked about needs for improvement in education, calling public schools “another name for long-term economic development.”

“We have opportunities we haven’t had in a generation or two generations,” Sheheen said, asking for support and promising to provide the vision and passion necessary to take advantage of those opportunities.

Drake, a Columbia attorney and lobbyist, also focused on the link between job creation and education. The two are “inextricably connected” and he said he saw that first hand negotiating the arrangement to bring BMW to South Carolina and representing other companies, including Boeing.

“I learned from that experience what the governor can do to bring jobs to this state,” Drake said.

He also told the crowd he is the only candidate with experience working in the executive branch, something that will shorten his learning curve.

Drake worked for former governors Dick Riley and John West.

The fund-raiser gave candidates and their wives a chance to talk with voters in a relaxed social setting. Those in attendance said they enjoyed the opportunity, but even better, they liked the chance to hear in person from multiple candidates in one location.

With the exception of Rex, who many voters said they are familiar with from his last campaign and his work as superintendent of education, the candidates were largely unknown.

The fund-raiser was a perfect opportunity to begin gathering information to make a knowledgeable decision in June, said Anne Hartsell, a Hagley resident.

Bill Murray of Parkersville was of a similar mind. He wanted to hear what the candidates had to say, but “I’m also picking brains to see who is supportive of who,” he said.

Charles Moshier of Surfside Beach said the event left him impressed with the caliber of the candidates.

“As far as I can see, any one of them could beat a Republican right now,” he said.

After the speeches, he said he favors Rex and McLeod, though he didn’t know anything about McLeod before the event.

“I’d feel comfortable with either of them as governor,” he said.

The fund-raiser was one of a series that have been taking place around the state to introduce the candidates to voters.

State Sen. Robert Ford is also running for governor. He was scheduled to attend, but didn’t make it.

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