Republicans: Criticism of SC Dem governor nominee falls flat

Meg Kinnard
Associated Press

With less than four months until South Carolina voters pick their next governor, some leading Republican state lawmakers are suggesting that efforts by a group on their own side exemplify how the gubernatorial campaign has entered the “silly season.”

The Republican Governors Association on Tuesday launched a website accusing Democratic gubernatorial nominee James Smith of “consistently and shamelessly” supporting tax hikes during his more than two decades in the state House. A web ad from the group called Smith a “liberal politician” who backs “Bernie Sanders-style big government.”

In contrast, during the Democratic primary one of Smith’s opponents accused him of being too conservative. Charleston consultant Phil Noble flayed Smith for having a positive rating from the National Rifle Association and blamed the longtime legislator for the reason “South Carolina has one of the most lax sets of gun laws in the country.”

In a statement to AP, Smith called the RGA’s attacks “tired, false, divisive drivel.”

The website itself offers no details backing up the group’s assertions. Upon request, the RGA provided The Associated Press with several media articles about Smith’s stances, including a 2016 piece citing his support of raising the gas tax.

Smith was one of many lawmakers who backed raising the state’s gas tax to provide reliable revenue to fix South Carolina’s deteriorating roads and bridges. After weeks of contentious debate, legislative Republicans and Democrats alike voted overwhelmingly in 2017 to pass the increase, which Republican Gov. Henry McMaster pledged to veto.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers in both chambers then combined to defeat McMaster’s veto by more than 80 percent. Given that tremendous support for the bill, information like the RGA’s effort is nothing but politics intended to draw a contrast between the Democratic and Republican nominees — even if their parties have agreed on the issues — Republican Rep. Gary Clary told AP on Tuesday.

“All that does is establish a difference between James Smith and Henry McMaster,” Clary said. “James Smith, along with a lot of Democrats and Republicans, supported the increase of the gas tax. And Gov. McMaster vetoed it. … Everyone tries to seize on what they can in order to get an edge or a wedge.”

Instead of raising the tax, McMaster proposed borrowing up to $1 billion for road repairs and also asked the federal government for $5 billion. House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, who called McMaster’s quest for federal money a good idea but not a long-term solution, said the Republican Governors Association’s attack isn’t a surprise in an election year.

“The political season is also known as silly season,” the Republican said Tuesday. “That goes with the territory unfortunately.”

Gibbs Knotts, a political scientist at the College of Charleston, said Tuesday that the RGA’s allegations are hard to swallow when compared with Smith’s bipartisanship, particularly on issues like the gas tax.

“Other than this gas tax, I don’t know that there’s a real record of him supporting massive tax increases,” Knotts said. “We’re in such a hyper-partisan environment right now. I have to believe at some point that people are going to say, well, when people can compromise and work together, that’s better.”

To Simrill, the improvements and safety fixes already evident on the state’s roads are evidence that the bill was the right one, regardless of party.

“Getting the job done was more important than partisan politics,” he said.

McMaster’s empty posturing does real-life harm to South Carolina

By James Smith

This campaign for governor can sometimes feel like two separate conversations that don’t connect at any point.

Our campaign is focused on South Carolina. My running mate, Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, and I are focused exclusively on real issues facing our citizens here at home. We advocate for a brighter future for our state, one in which no South Carolinian is left behind.

The incumbent seems to dwell in a different universe. In his world, all that matters are divisive national litmus-test issues. He recently vetoed millions in health care for the poor simply to deprive a few thousand for a group that his base objects to — and doesn’t even succeed in achieving his stated purpose. To him, it’s not about the people or the policy — it’s about the pose.

CNBC reported last week that “Poor health care is sapping this state’s Southern charm.” In the same week, though, Henry McMaster vetoed $16 million in health care for our state’s poorest citizens — in order to posture on an unrelated national issue. He tried backtracking on that Friday, but the incident illustrated how thoughtless he has been with regard to critical policy.

As governor, I will understand the impact of my vetoes before I make them.

And when the federal government imposes tariffs that threaten thousands of jobs here in South Carolina, McMaster won’t stand up against them.

We think our approach is the right one: focusing on things that matter to being governor and lieutenant governor. We’d like to just ignore McMaster’s polarizing poses. But he makes that hard.

That’s because the national issues he embraces often have such negative effects on South Carolina. So we have to speak out.

Let’s look at what’s ACTUALLY happening in our state as a result of the national policies that he either embraces or just won’t speak out against:

  • BMW is one of the great pillars of South Carolina manufacturing, providing almost 10,000 excellent jobs in the Upstate. But with the U.S. imposing arbitrary tariffs and other nations retaliating, BMW plans to build more SUVs overseas. And McMaster has done nothing.
  • BMW is just one of several important Upstate manufacturers that have written to the U.S. Commerce Department expressing deep concern about the harm the tariffs could do to their business, and the jobs they provide. And McMaster has done nothing.
  • Volvo, which had planned to start building cars near Charleston later this year, is now questioning whether to add those 2,000 high-paying jobs – because of the tariffs. And McMaster has done nothing.
  • Two weeks ago, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said South Carolina would be among the states most harmed by tariffs, as $3 billion of our state’s economy depends on international trade. And McMaster has done nothing.
  • Last week, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce appealed to our state’s congressional delegation to do “whatever it takes to inform the administration about the jobs at risk” in our state. And McMaster has done nothing.
  • In its annual “Top States for Business” report this past week, CNBC dropped South Carolina to 30th. Our neighbors North Carolina and Georgia both made the top 10. And McMaster has done nothing.

And that’s just what we’ve seen in the last few days.

The governor has made poor, ill-informed decisions, and in other cases — such as the job-killing tariffs — has taken no action at all. His silence on these important issues is deafening.

James Smith is a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and the Democratic nominee for governor.

Post and Courier


He could be your next SC governor. But can Smith avoid the same traps as other Dems?

While the two remaining Republican candidates for S.C. governor are preparing to debateWednesday, Democratic nominee James Smith will be out raising money.

Monday’s fundraiser, with the Conservation Voters Political Action Committee, is an effort to replenish Smith’s campaign war chest for November’s general election.

Raising money — a lot more money — is just one of the things the Columbia Democrat must do if he is to be elected South Carolina’s first Democratic governor in 20 years.

S.C. Democrats — a sometimes fractious group — also must unite behind Smith, while at the same time attracting new voters.

Smith will need to present S.C. voters with big, bold ideas about the state’s future, giving them a reason to take a chance on a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion for the first time in decades, political observers say.

“For a Democrat to win statewide in South Carolina, three things have to happen: You have to have a strong candidate. You have to have a weak Republican candidate, and then you have to have a favorable national environment,” said S.C. Democratic operative Tyler Jones.

“There’s a very big chance (Smith) has all three.”

‘This isn’t county council’

S.C. Republicans, of course, would disagree with that assessment.

But Democrats say they see unprecedented excitement building behind Smith’s campaign.

“Since the primary ended, James has been capitalizing on the excitement and the momentum that Tuesday offered by fundraising and continuing to talk to supporters from all over this state,” said campaign spokesperson Alyssa Miller. “We’ve seen an incredible uptick in our fundraising from folks who are just so excited, not only by the results from Tuesday but also about the optimism that James brings to this cycle.”

But that must translate into dollars.

Miller did not offer any specific numbers of Smith’s recent fundraising. But the Democrat will need a lot more money before S.C. voters head to the polls in November to buy ads and put volunteers on the ground in most, if not all, 46 S.C. counties.

“This isn’t county council. This isn’t even a state legislative race,” said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts. “This is a statewide contest, where it’s going to take some resources.”

Smith must raise between $3 million and $10 million to be competitive in November, some Democrats say.

“It’s hard to give a figure, but it’ll probably break records,” Jones said. “Republicans raise money in big chunks. As long as James can continue to grow his small dollar army, he will be able to compete with whoever the Republican is.”

Thus far, Smith has proven to be an adequate fundraiser, at best.

Before the June 12 Democratic primary, Smith raised about $1.1 million. The two Republicans in the June 26 runoff for the GOP nomination for governor raised seven times that much during the same time period.

Gov. Henry McMaster raised $4.4 million while Greenville businessman John Warren accumulated $3.3 million, a sum skewed by the fact that Warren gave his campaign $3 million.

“Republicans will always out-raise Democrats in the money race. It’s not even a race,” said Jaime Harrison, former chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party, now associate chair of the Democratic National Committee. “They have a lot more big-money interests at stake.”

‘If he wants my help, he has it’

S.C. Democrats see the McMaster-Warren runoff as proof the S.C. Republican Party is in disarray.

“They can’t coalesce behind one candidate,” S.C. Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson said Tuesday. “It shows a hell of a lot more of the disarray in the Republican Party than it does in the Democratic Party.”

Still, to grab the attention of undecided voters, independents and moderate Republicans — a fraction of the S.C. GOP that Democrats hope to pull over to Smith’s campaign — Democrats must change the way they talk to voters, observers say.

S.C. Democrats long have needed to change their tone to run more winnable campaigns, party chairman Robertson acknowledged Wednesday.

“I often say my mom is a liberal and my dad is a Democrat. My mom believes in rational, intelligent conversation … and my dad says, ‘Just beat the SOBs,’ ” Robertson said.

“Sometimes, we have to change the way we talk, change to whom we talk, change how we talk and change how we go after voters.”

Democrats are hopeful that Smith’s pick for lieutenant governor, state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster, can do some of that talking.

This November is the first time the Democratic and GOP nominees for governor will appear on the ballot with a running mate/lieutenant governor, who the nominee has selected, on a combined ticket.

The hope is that running mate will help a candidate broaden his or her appeal to voters, bringing a different race, geography, gender or experience to the ticket.

Powers Norrell comes from rural Lancaster County, a contrast to Smith, who lives in the shadow of the University of South Carolina.

She was the first in her family to graduate from college and a daughter of mill workers — a story that Democrats hope could capture rural S.C. voters who voted for Trump in 2016.

“They are two of the best candidates we’ve had in a while,” Harrison said. “They will be the change we so desperately need.”

But first, the party must be united behind Smith.

Charleston technology consultant Phil Noble — who came in third in the Democratic primary — has endorsed Smith despite throwing repeated jabs at him on the campaign trail over gun control.

“He has my full endorsement, and if he wants my help, he has it,” Noble said via email.

However, as of Friday, Florence antitrust attorney Marguerite Willis — who came in second in the Democratic primary — had not publicly said whether she will endorse Smith.

Willis did speak by phone with Smith after Tuesday’s primary, but Willis’ spokesman Les Braswell said Thursday the pair have not talked about an endorsement.

‘Ride the wave’

Smith has one thing going for him that twice unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen, a state senator from Camden, said he did not have in 2010 and 2014 — a more favorable political climate.

“I had (Barack) Obama hanging above me. He wasn’t popular in this state,” the Kershaw Democrat said.

“When I ran (for governor in 2010), there was the largest Republican wave in the country. We’re seeing the opposite of that right now to some extent. He (Smith) can’t control it, but he has to capitalize on it.”

While Democrats talk about a “blue wave” of anti-Trump voters in November nationally, the president’s approval ratings remain relatively high in South Carolina.

The latest Winthrop Poll, in April, put Trump’s S.C. approval rating at 46 percent, up from 42 percent in February. Trump’s disapproval rating was 47 percent, down from 50 percent.

But recent upsets in red states since Trump took office have S.C. Democrats excited.

For instance, Democrat Doug Jones won Alabama’s open U.S. Senate seat in December, beating Roy Moore, the Trump-backed GOP candidate.

“When I was running, the wave was crashing on me,” Sheheen said. “In this election, the wave is breaking for James. But he has to be able to ride the wave.”

Smith can do that, Sheheen said, if he focuses on “kitchen table issues” and does not let national politics become a distraction.

“This is a different year, and there is really something reminiscent of ’98,” said Democratic operative Lachlan McIntosh, who worked on the 1998 campaign of Jim Hodges, the last Democrat elected governor of South Carolina.

“There is an energetic base of Democrats we haven’t seen in a while. It’s a special opportunity that doesn’t come around much.”

‘Outside of the box’

Hodges — coined the “education governor” — took a huge gamble in his 1998 run against then-Gov. David Beasley, a Republican.

Hodges proposed a lottery to help pay for college scholarships and improve S.C. public schools — a “brave and bold” proposal that won over Democrats and Republicans, McIntosh said.

“No one had ever done that before,” McIntosh said, adding, “James is going to have to find issues that attract people who don’t normally vote Democratic.”

Smith — who calls himself the state’s “next education governor” — says he has those bold ideas that can appeal across the aisle.

He says he will push legislation to lower college tuition rates — noting a proposal that Sheheen introduced this year to increase the state money given to each college for enrolling in-state students. In return, colleges would have to freeze tuition for a year.

For public schools, Smith has called for teacher raises.

“This is a special opportunity that doesn’t come around much,” McIntosh said.

“In politics, timing is everything. James has found himself in a good spot.”

What Smith must do

What state Rep. James Smith, the Democratic nominee for governor, must do to win the Governor’s Mansion in November

1. Raise a lot more money. Smith raised $1.1 million for the Democratic primary. The top two Republicans raised seven times that much. Smith will need from $3 million to $10 mlllion to win in November, some say.

2. Unite his party while Republicans fight among themselves. Democrats are famously fractious. The second-place finisher in Tuesday’s primary, Marguerite Willis, has yet to endorse Smith. However, the GOP has yet to be able to select a candidate, and the GOP nominee who emerges may be weakened by a sometimes bitter primary and runoff.

3. Appeal to independents and moderate Republicans. Democrats hope some S.C. voters will see Smith as an Afghan war veteran, not a — shudder — Democrat. They also hope running mate state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell will be able to convince rural voters to cast a Democratic ballot.

4. Keep the race local while capturing the enthusiasm of a national “blue wave.” Focus his campaign on “kitchen table issues,” not national politics.

5. Sell a big idea. Smith talks about wanting to be the state’s “next education governor,” making college more affordable and giving raises to teachers. But is that big enough?

The State

Governor’s Races: Smith Romps in Dem Primary; McMaster, Warren Headed to Runoff in GOP Showdown

Defying polling that predicted a much closer race, longtime state Rep. James Smith earned a resounding victory Tuesday night in the Democratic primary for governor, defeating two challengers.

Meanwhile, incumbent Gov. Henry McMaster had a tougher go of things on the Republican side. He came out on top of a five-person GOP race, but failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote, and is now looking at a runoff in two weeks against ascendant Greenville businessman John Warren.

According to unofficial results as of 10:55 p.m., Smith, a combat veteran and 22-year member of the Legislature, had 62 percent of the vote in the Democratic race, while Florence antitrust attorney Marguerite Willis had 27 percent and Charleston businessman and Democratic activist Phil Noble had 11 percent.

Meanwhile, for the GOP, McMaster had 44 percent of the vote, while Warren had just more than 25 percent. Catherine Templeton — long expected to be McMaster’s main challenger — ended up coming in third at 22 percent. Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant was in a distant fourth with about 6 percent and Yancey McGill, the former lieutenant governor (and former Democrat) clocked in at 2 percent.

Energy was high at Smith’s victory party at Columbia’s 701 Whaley, where a loud, boisterous crowd gathered to greet the Democratic nominee and his running mate, state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell.

Looking ahead to the fall, Smith says he believes voters are ready to elect a Democratic governor in South Carolina for the first time in 20 years.

“It’s very, very, very important that we are successful,” Smith said, speaking with newspaper reporters just after his victory speech. “[Republicans] have had all the power, all the control, and everybody’s rightly dissatisfied with our roads, with the conditions of our schools, with the conditions of our prisons. People can look and maybe see that after two decades of total one-party control it has not served our state well.”

Smith’s blowout win came after recent polls in the race predicted a much closer contest. He said he was never overly worried about those polls.

“Honestly, both Mandy and I weren’t really concerned with the polls,” Smith said. “We really weren’t. I think what you can see is that [the polls] weren’t very reliable.”

Powers Norrell said she has felt the momentum building behind her and Smith’s ticket.

“There’s an energy in this campaign unlike I’ve ever felt in any campaign,” the third-term legislator said. “Everywhere we go, people are so excited. A lot of them have never voted before, but they are excited to vote in this campaign.”

In the GOP gubernatorial race, Warren, who gave more than $2 million of his own money to his campaign, clearly thinks he’s got a shot at McMaster in the coming runoff.

“Tonight, we have hope for the future of our state,” the Greenville businessman said, according to The Post and Courier. “A clear majority of Republicans voted against Henry McMaster’s failed leadership and voted for a new conservative leadership that [running mate] Pat [McKinney] and I are going to bring.”

McMaster was also a topic of conversation just outside the doors of 701 Whaley. As Smith’s victory party raged inside, state Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson noted the governor’s inability to get a majority in the first round of primary voting.

“You’ve got Hank McMaster that can’t get out of a damn primary,” Robertson said. “The [Republican Governors Association] has got to be scared s#!tless. Poor little Hank, I feel sorry for him.”


Landslide: State Rep. James Smith wins SC Democratic primary for governor

State Rep. James Smith claimed the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor in a landslide Tuesday as he and his party try to reclaim the S.C. Governor’s Mansion for the first time in 20 years.

In a win for the Democratic Party’s establishment, Smith — a Columbia attorney and Afghanistan combat veteran — easily won enough votes to hold off his two primary opponents — Charleston technology consultant Phil Noble and Florence anti-trust attorney Marguerite Willis — and avoid a runoff.

In November, Smith will face the winner of a June 26 runoff between Gov. Henry McMaster of Columbia and Greenville’s John Warren.

Smith beamed inside 701 Whaley on Tuesday, the same building where he kicked off his campaign.

“I ask that you take the energy in this room tonight to your homes, to your workplace and to all of our communities,” Smith told the crowd. “I know as governor, our best days are ahead of us.”

Party favorite got boost early

Smith was the presumed front-runner in the Democratic race.

The 22-year S.C. House member announced his candidacy in October — well before Willis, who finished second in the primary, and Noble, who finished third. That gave Smith a lead in raising money and organizing a statewide door-knocking grassroots effort.

Smith, 50, also was able to lock in early key endorsements from Democratic heavy hitters, including former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, the state’s senior member of Congress and the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House.

Smith named S.C. House colleague Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster as his pick for lieutenant governor — a “real up-and-comer” in the S.C. Democratic Party, noted Winthrop University political scientist Karen Kedrowski. “She (Powers Norrell) … can really speak to the working class roots of the Democratic Party.”

Democrats hope Norrell can help Smith land moderate white voters in November, who may have voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.

“You’re going to see Mandy and James Smith bring voters to the Democratic Party that might not normally vote for a Democratic candidate,” said Trav Robertson, S.C. Democratic Party chairman.

Throughout his primary campaign, Smith ran as a progressive moderate, positioning himself for the November general election.

He was endorsed by conservation groups in the wake of a $9 billion nuclear debacle at the V.C. Summer plant in Fairfield County. He also is supported by pro-choice groups. But he accepted that support with an eye toward the general election. “I don’t know anyone that is pro-abortion. It’s a question of people’s rights, fundamental rights,” Smith told The State in May.

Smith’s win illustrates Democrats’ desire to win the November general election, said College of Charleston political scientist Gibbs Knotts. “It shows that Democrats are fairly united behind a person that has the best chance of winning.

“He was a person who won this invisible primary, but then translated it into an actual primary.”

Swings and misses

Throughout the primary, Smith was not immune to swings from his opponents.

They included:

▪ Repeated hits from Noble, who tried to tie Smith to the National Rifle Association over Smith’s past “high” grades from the gun lobby’s Political Victory Fund. Smith — a combat veteran, who joined the military at age 37 after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was awarded a Purple Heart after he was injured by an improvised explosive device — says he supports the Second Amendment but has called for “common sense” gun control legislation.

▪ An early campaign by the Republican Governor’s Association to slam Smith for one of his business ventures — The Congaree Group. That company has received lucrative government contracts since 2010, mostly from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to provide valet services for veterans who are treated at Veterans Administration hospitals. Smith’s status as a service-disabled veteran allowed him access to those federal contracts, reserved specifically for veteran-owned small businesses.

▪ Jabs in the Democrats’ last debate from Willis, who criticized Smith for having close relationships with former Republican lawmakers entangled in a State House corruption probe.

▪ Criticism from Noble and Willis that Smith’s two-decade-long tenure in the S.C. House did not produce any substantial legislation. Smith had countered that Democrats have little power in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

Noble told reporters Tuesday that, while disappointed by his loss, he will endorse Smith. “Any Democrat is better than a Republican,” he said.

Willis did not respond to attempts for comment by press time.

Despite the hits, Smith was able to convince Democratic voters they should nominate a candidate who can work with both parties, Knotts said.

“He reminds me a lot of some of the Southern governors from the ’70s or ’80s — like (the late Gov.) Zell Miller in Georgia or (former Gov.) Jim Hunt in North Carolina — moderates who worked to build consensus, are pro-business and also pro-education.

“It’s a different approach.”

Forging ahead

Winning a November election in red state South Carolina will be a tough uphill climb for Smith.

South Carolina has not put a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion since 2002.

The party’s last attempt, in 2014, saw state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden lose by 14 points to then-Gov. Nikki Haley.

“It’s a really big hill” for Democrats to climb, Knotts said. “But it’s not impossible.”

With his primary win behind him — and roughly five months until the Nov. 6 general election — it is time for Smith to kick his campaign into high gear if he wants to compete in a red state, pundits say.

“He (Smith) can start to unite the party and start campaigning … two extra weeks while the Republicans are still infighting,” said Winthrop University’s Kedrowski. “That’s good for the (Democratic) party across the state.”

Kedrowski said the summer months are going to be crucial for Smith to raise money and get his name out to voters — particularly moderate Republicans — outside of the State House bubble.

“After Labor Day is when people start to pay more attention,” she said. “I wouldn’t expect much downtime (for Smith), especially given the long odds of a Democrat being elected governor.”

Looking at the McMaster-Warren runoff in two weeks, S.C. Democratic Chairman Robertson said the state’s GOP is in disarray, giving Democrats a chance to win in November. “They can’t coalesce behind one candidate.”

Smith brushed aside any notion that a Democrat can’t win the governor’s race in November.

“They said we couldn’t win in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Virginia. … I’m very confident in the ability to win in November.”

The State

James Smith seals Democratic nomination for SC governor

In a show of force, James Smith sealed the Democratic nomination for governor Tuesday, easily outdistancing his two primary opponents and pitching himself as a candidate capable of loosening the Republican grip on South Carolina government come November.

Smith, a Columbia-area attorney, Statehouse lawmaker and member of the Army National Guard who served in Afghanistan, collected more than 63 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.

The finish gives Smith’s campaign a jumpstart on the general election, as current Gov. Henry McMaster and Upstate businessman John Warren battle it out in a Republican runoff election set for June 26.

“The people who voted today clearly rejected the negative and divisive politics in the Republican primary,” Smith said, as he addressed his supporters in downtown Columbia.

Marguerite Willis, an attorney from Florence, received around 26 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial results, and Phil Noble, a Charleston-area businessman, received around 10 percent.

“He had a huge victory. He ought to take it and run,” Noble said, after congratulating Smith on the victory.

All three Democratic candidates focused their campaigns in past months on increasing funding for the state’s schools, expanding the state’s Medicaid program and lowering people’s electricity bills in the face of the abandoned nuclear project at V.C. Summer station in Fairfield County.

But with little separating them in policy, Noble and Willis attacked Smith over the 22 years he spent serving in the South Carolina Legislature.

They also attempted to rebuke Smith for his associations with several Republican politicians in Columbia, including current Attorney General Alan Wilson and former Rep. Rick Quinn, who pleaded guilty to misconduct in office earlier this year.

In the run-up to Tuesday’s election, Noble made a point to criticize the Democratic Party for consistently selecting a Democrat from the Statehouse to run for governor for decades.

“This is a referendum on the failed and broken corrupt system we have in Columbia that has held us back,” Noble said during a debate last month, casting himself as the fresh choice. “It is a referendum on politics as usual.”

David Edmond, a Richland County resident, voted for Noble during the early voting period. Edmond recognized Noble wasn’t the favorite of most of the party’s leadership but he liked the Charleston businessman after seeing him during a candidate forum earlier this year in Columbia.

“I went by feel,” Edmond said.

Smith, however, views his time in the Statehouse as an asset and believes his relationships with Republican lawmakers would enable him to achieve his goals as governor, even with the Legislature remaining under Republican control.

“I think the key in this election is experience,” Smith said.

More than a few voters in Columbia on Tuesday said Smith’s record in the Statehouse and his 12-month tour of duty in Afghanistan made him the most appealing candidate.

“I know people like the outsider but you have to know how to get stuff done,” said Beth Edgar, 49, who was voting in Smith’s own precinct.

Edgar and her husband, Chip Edgar, both voted for former Gov. Nikki Haley in the last gubernatorial election. But they liked Smith’s “record of service,” they said.

Connie and Leon Ginsberg said they’ve wanted Smith to run for governor for years. The couple has followed his work in the Statehouse, and voted for Smith Tuesday morning.

“He knows the issues. He’s an honest and forthright guy. He’s intelligent and ethical,” said Leon Ginsberg, an Army veteran and retired University of South Carolina professor.

Diane Sumpter, who voted in Columbia’s 9th ward, liked Noble personally but she believed his policies made it impossible for him to defeat the Republican nominee later this year.

“He’s too liberal,” Sumpter said of Noble.

Smith was busy Tuesday morning trying to reinforce the idea that his candidacy could attract Democrats and moderate Republican voters alike — something his campaign will likely have to accomplish if they want to take over the Governor’s Mansion.

“For my entire life, I have worked to build coalitions to bring people together to face real problems and come up with common sense solutions and get them passed,” Smith said after casting his own ballot. “I have a history of doing that.”

Post and Courier

SMITH: Let’s move S.C. forward for everyone

South Carolina is a state with enormous potential. From the people who live here to our unparalleled natural heritage, the Palmetto State is blessed abundantly. And yet, our state has been stunted in its economic growth and progress because political leaders have been too willing to accept the status quo.

I have served the people of House District 72 for 22 years and I have been honored by their confidence and trust in me. Yet I have watched, year after year, as partisan bickering and posturing by the Republican Party has halted real advancement.

A recent report revealed that 194,000 South Carolinians, up from 125,000, are without access to health care because the last two Republican governors — for political reasons — refused to accept the federal health care funds that would have provided coverage for our citizens.

The impact of this decision has been devastating. As I have campaigned around the state, I have met citizens in every county who have been directly affected by this decision. From the 1/3 Smith elderly couple who has had to decide between paying their mortgage or buying their medicine to the parents who have to drive their child across two counties to access urgent care due to yet another rural hospital closing.

These outcomes are unacceptable. Your ability to access quality health care should not be dependent on how much you make or where you live, and yet for many of our neighbors, that is their reality. Healthcare should never be a partisan issue. For those who are without it, I can tell you that it’s anything but political. It is a matter of life or death.

If we are serious about moving South Carolina forward, we should be working to move South Carolina forward for everyone. We should not accept the fact that anyone working full-time should live in poverty.

At the end of the day – in order to fulfill our greatest potential and build an economy that works for everyone – we must provide access to high-quality education and workforce development opportunities. We must enact education reforms that modernize our public education system and elevate the status, role and importance of our teachers. For too long, we have been failing the children of this state, but together I know that we can change that.

I look around this state and I see the potential in every student. From the students who organized the March For Our Lives rallies to the students in teacher cadet programs, we need to prioritize our future by modernizing our education system and focusing on the students themselves, rather than their test scores.

I don’t claim that a Democratic governor can fix things overnight, but I do think our party is focusing on the right issues that affect real people’s lives. And I don’t claim to be the candidate with all the answers, but I think my years of experience have taught me how to ask the right questions and listen for answers with open ears and an open mind.
I am running for governor because I believe in the greatness of our state, and I am tired of seeing too many South Carolinians struggle. We can and must do more to meet the needs of the people in our state. We must focus on policies that build healthy families and strong communities in urban and rural areas. As South Carolinians, we must ensure our state moves forward – together. That is why I ask for your vote in the Democratic Primary.

Columbia attorney James Smith is a member of the S.C. House of Representatives who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

Statehouse Report

Smith sees Democratic values as salve for state woes

James Smith isn’t afraid to use the P-word.

“I think the word ‘politician’ has been given a connotation that to a degree has been earned by those who have made bad decisions, but a commitment to public service is something we ought to uphold and aspire to,” the Columbia state representative and Democratic candidate for governor said. “I think we need to find that place in our politics where we remember there are things more important than party. That we have a connection by being Americans and South Carolinians.”

Smith, 50, also isn’t afraid of running for the state’s highest office as a life-long champion of liberal causes — even if it costs him votes among South Carolina’s heavy pro-life bloc.

“I wish some of my colleagues would care more about these kids after they were born. Why aren’t we making sure we’re taking care of our women in pre-natal and post-natal care? Why aren’t we making sure our kids are and healthy and ready to learn by first grade? For some people, this is going to be a reason not to support me. All I can say is, I believe in the entire Bill of Rights in our Constitution,” Smith said.

An attorney, Smith has served in the state House of Representatives since 1996. He’s also a major in U.S. Army, deploying to Afghanistan in 2007 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. During his 12-month tour, he earned the Bronze Star Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and a Purple Heart.

Smith’s primary opponents — Florence attorney Marguerite Willis and Greenville technology consultant Phil Noble — have attacked him as a Columbia insider, a notion he scoffs at.

“I’ve faced the voters eleven times in 22 years,” he said. “They can say those things, but I just don’t think people will believe them.”

Smith has a laundry list of endorsements from prominent Democratic leaders including former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-6th District. On Friday, he won backing from the South Carolina Education Association.

That’s on top of endorsements by the South Carolina Progressive Network, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic Votes, Sierra Club of SC and Conservation Voters of SC, among other organizations.

Smith and his running mate, state Rep. Mandy Powers-Norrell, of Lancaster, take a broad view of their campaign.

“I have a great deal of confidence in the ability of Mandy and myself to win this race in November,” Smith said. “From the start of our campaign to today, we have more individual donations than all the other campaigns combined, and they come from all 46 counties. There is a real desire among not only Democrats but moderate Republicans that believe we need a change, we need to get back to investing in our people and places again.”

Despite running as an unabashed Democrat in a deep red state, Smith said he doesn’t view his candidacy as a long shot bid – nor is he interested in using the campaign as a platform to talk about ideas.

“No. 1, we want to win this race. It’s not an academic exercise. I’m not interested in yelling at the TV. I want to govern. I never have had just Democrats vote for me. The message doesn’t change for me. It’s always who I am and focusing on things that really matter and government that is serving the people. The people of our state can tell when politicians are making decisions for themselves,” he said.

Smith, however, also has a message reserved for his Republican counterparts who believe the winner of that party’s June 12 primary will go on to be governor.

“I hope they continue to think that. I welcome their continued underestimation of what we can and the people of our state can do,” he said. “When you focus on the nuts and bolts of politics instead of the red meat, you can get things done.”

Index Journal


James Smith has ‘ambitious plans’ for SC

James Smith, a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, is running to represent the Democratic Party in the race for the governor’s mansion.

Smith has served in the House of Representatives since being in elected in 1996 to represent House District 72, which includes southern downtown Columbia and the northwestern suburbs of the city in Richland County.

He also served a deployment in Afghanistan beginning in 2007 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. For his service in Afghanistan, Smith received the Bronze Star , Combat Infantryman Badge , and Purple Heart . Smith is still a major in the South Carolina Army National Guard. Before entering the infantry after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Smith served as a judge-advocate general officer in the Army beginning in 1996.

While in Afghanistan, Smith worked with an interpreter whom he later helped to immigrate to the United States. The interpreter was no longer safe living in Afghanistan because of the assistance he provided to the American troops.

Smith graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1995 and from the University of South Carolina in 1990.

He cited his experiences in the military and working with both sides of the political aisle in order to pass legislation. He also said the role of governor needed experience working in politics, which he and his running mate, Mandy Norrell, both have thanks to their service in the General Assembly.

He added that the state had previously had great leaders who had served the people of the state and that the state needed those types of leaders again.

“I have an ambitious set of initiatives and ideas,” Smith said. “It’s not just about me being governor. It’s about our people and their future. It’s about the choices that we make that will benefit the hardworking people of our state.”

His plans include Medicaid expansion to support preventative care, teacher recruitment, better pay for teachers, smaller class sizes, taking off some of the education bureaucracy, expansion of early child care and programs for 4-year-olds, freezing of the tuition of higher educational institutions, protecting the state’s environment and an equal pay for equal work law “with teeth.”

“It’s not about big government or small government,” Smith said. “It’s about smart government.”

The other Democrats running for the nomination are business and technology consultant Phil Noble and Florence resident and Columbia lawyer Marguerite Willis. The primary election is scheduled for June 12 with a run-off, if needed, on June 26.

The winner of the Republican nomination will face the winner of the five-candidate Republican primary: Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, former Lt. Gov. John “Yancey” McGill, current Gov. Henry McMaster, former head of two state agencies Catherine Templeton, or businessman John Warren, and the American Party of South Carolina’s Martin Barry.

Florence Morning News