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Election 2016: Candidates hunt for voters in Senate runoff

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Connie M. Graham of Pawleys Island is voting for Stephen Goldfinch in Tuesday’s state Senate District 34 Republican primary runoff. She’s the kind of passionate single-issue voter who will go to the polls when over 90 percent of the electorate stays home.

Graham has hemophilia, a disorder that prevents her blood from clotting. Her medicine costs between $175,000 and $300,000 a year.

Goldfinch, she said, has welcomed her to the S.C. House for the past three years to listen to her story. “His door has been open,” Graham said. “He’s set aside time to talk with me, find out about updates and new things going on in hemophilia and find out how he can help those with hemophilia here in South Carolina.”

Graham said retiring Sen. Ray Cleary has listened to her, and Goldfinch can now put a face with the need. “I think that is building change in this gentleman who will do a good job,” she said.

Voters in District 34 will return to the polls Tuesday for a runoff between Goldfinch and Reese Boyd. The winner of the GOP primary will have no Democratic opposition in November.

Goldfinch and Boyd are knocking on doors this week in hopes of connecting with voters. Boyd was in the Ricefields neighborhood Wednesday. He encountered independent voter Rocco Fedele, who didn’t plan to vote in the Republican primary.

Such is the scrap for voters in a primary runoff.

Boyd came to the Pawleys Island Democratic enclave Drinking Liberally to speak to potential voters. He stuck to his message of being the “true conservative” in the race. When a group supporting Goldfinch, Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, placed radio ads in Myrtle Beach suggesting Boyd didn’t support Donald Trump for president, he fired off a “cease and desist” letter. Boyd called the radio ads and a follow-up mailing “dirty tricks.”

The former law partners finished a close 1-2 in last week’s primary, eliminating candidates Joe Ford of Hagley and Dick Withington of Myrtle Beach. Ford was quick to endorse Boyd, and Boyd’s campaign mailed a flier to prospective voters featuring a photo of them shaking hands. Ford urged every conservative to get informed about Boyd.

The undertow of the Goldfinch and Boyd campaigns is running counter-intuitive to traditional Republican politics and certainly to Republican primary politics. Democrats crossing over to vote could very well decide the outcome because the primary is the de facto election without a Democrat on the ballot in November.

The race for county probate judge between two popular candidates may have drawn Democrats and independents to the GOP primary originally, the senate runoff may be enough to keep them Republicans for another day. Jean Marie Neal, who was chief of staff for two U.S. senators in Washington, D.C., said she didn’t see too many Democrats going to vote. There’s not that much difference in the two candidates for Democrats, she said.

Goldfinch and Boyd are claiming the conservative mantle. A Goldfinch campaign flier points out Boyd refused to sign the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” and claims he a “fiscal liberal” who favors tax increases. Boyd said he was the race’s “true conservative” during a forum, but has support from Democrats like former state Rep. Vida Miller in Pawleys Island.

Goldfinch defeated Miller in a bitter 2014 state House District 108 race. The contest was deemed close enough for Gov. Nikki Haley to come to a rally for Goldfinch to declare that she needed him in Columbia. Two years later, she’s backing Boyd.

Conservation voters will have an influence in next Tuesday’s race too. Members of the group Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic, who fought a successful battle to prevent oil drilling off the South Carolina coast, remember that Goldfinch supported drilling and made trips to the Gulf of Mexico to gather talking points.

Boyd says he favors seismic testing but not drilling at this time. That’s not reassuring to foes of drilling like Peg Howell of North Litchfield. But she said if SODA members go to the polls Tuesday, they will probably be voting for Boyd.

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