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Politics: Democrat sees opportunity in GOP bastion

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

If in the next 18 months someone you know asks if you’re happy with a corrupt state government you will know that Vincent Sheheen’s campaign for governor is catching on.

The Democratic state senator from Camden told an audience in Litchfield this week that South Carolina has “one of the most corrupt and dysfunctional governments in the United States.” Sheheen ran against Gov. Nikki Haley in 2010 and came within 4 percentage points of winning. But on Waccamaw Neck, Haley enjoyed a commanding majority.

So why bring the campaign that he launched in April here? “It’s where the money is,” Sheheen said. And he said he believes he can appeal to enough moderate Republicans to overtake Haley in 2014.

“Most retirees come from states with more moderate Republicans,” Sheheen said. In Georgetown and Horry counties, “there’s a tremendous crossover vote.”

Sheheen met with about 60 supporters Monday at J.D.’s Steakhouse. While in the county he stopped at McDonald Elementary School in Georgetown and a day care center in Andrews. Both sites have had success with early-childhood education programs, which Sheheen supports.

“I can’t believe our state superintendent of education doesn’t support early-childhood education,” Sheheen told Carolyn Ellis and he worked the crowd. Ellis co-chairs the county’s Early Learning Council. And Haley, he said, “barely mentions public education.”

He supports public preschool education. “There’s no reason North Carolina and Georgia should have universal 4-year-old [programs], but not South Carolina,” Sheheen said.

His harshest words focused on ethics reform, which is pending in the legislature. He spoke of Haley using state planes to fly campaign staff around the state and the alleged ethics violations that were the subject of hearings by the House Ethics Committee, which cleared Haley.

“We can do better than that,” Sheheen said.

Republicans have the majority in the legislature as well as the executive branch. “It’s not healthy to have one party dominating,” Sheheen said. “We all have to work together.”

“It’s not about being a Democrat, not about being a Republican. It’s about being a South Carolinian,” he said.

Nevertheless, Sheheen said later as he snacked on pretzels and pimiento cheese that he thinks his “pro-business” ideas will appeal to Republicans. He favors cutting the tax rate on manufacturing property from its current 10.5 percent.

He has collected his ideas in a book, “The Right Way,” that he hands out at campaign events. “I called it that because I wanted to mess with them,” Sheheen said.

As he signed copies for supporters, he urged them to talk with their friends and neighbors. “Ideas matter more than money,” he said. “But I need your money, too.”

He said he plans to highlight Haley’s “failed record” and present a platform of positive changes. He said Republicans are eager to focus on Washington politics, but he wants to keep the focus on South Carolina.

One woman explained that most of her friends are Republicans. “Ask them if they’re happy with a corrupt South Carolina government,” Sheheen suggested.

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