Congressman Henry Brown's announcement soon after the New Year that he was retiring led to a flood of candidates running for the rarely open seat. At first, it appeared the excitement and momentum of a fierce GOP primary might lead to a highly competitive general election. But the strong campaign of Democrat Robert Burton was defeated by the unspectacular, but effective, primary run from perpetual candidate Ben Frasier, whose name was certainly more recognizable than his rarely seen face on the campaign trail.
The generally poor fortunes for any Democrat on the ballot this year and the lack of a strong, energized opponent to Republican Tim Scott has all but assured a GOP win on Nov. 2. But a fresh group of third-party candidates intend to change the outcome, and each has an ardent belief that they could be the one to do it.
After his selection as the candidate for the United Citizens Party, Mac McCullough says one supporter was excited about the chances of collecting as much as 12 percent of the vote.
"I intend to be the next Congressman," McCullough says. "I'm not interested in 12 percent of the vote. That's been my attitude the whole time."
The candidates who offered interviews for this story provide sharp contrasts on issues like spending cuts, healthcare reform, and the best use of our military force.
The other candidates in the race include: Robert Dobbs (Green), Ben Frasier (Democrat), and Jimmy Wood (Independence).
Ron Paul: Blandford is a big fan of the Texas congressman, and he hopes to join Paul in his efforts to address the nation's fiscal policy and steer the U.S. military away from nation building.
Federal Reserve: Paul has been the leading advocate for an audit of the reserve. Blandford said this type of review would reveal the special interests and foreign governments that control our economy. "If you open this up, there will be major changes in monetary policy," he says. Blandford supports eliminating the reserve all together.
Sales Tax: Blandford supports removing income taxes and closing the Internal Revenue Service, replacing them with a larger flat sales tax on all goods and services. "When you put a tax on productivity, you decrease the incentive for production," Blandford says of the income tax. Relying on a sales tax would limit spending to only what a person can consume. Blandford says that he's not an expert on the tax but there are proposed measures that would address inequities in the plan.
Military: Blandford is a stern critic of the nation's military policy, questioning the "conservative" credentials of war hawks in the GOP and suggesting that the nation's existing foreign policy promotes civil unrest, military strikes, and regime change. "I believe in a strong defense, not a strong offense," he says.
Healthcare: Blandford opposes recent Democratic healthcare reforms, but he says it's disingenuous to suggest Republicans would repeal it. Instead, Blandford thinks Congress should refuse to allocate any money for the new programs that the law established. "It would be great to give people these things, but not at the expense of bankrupting the country," he says.
Healthcare: Groce says insurance reform should include both a public option to make insurance more affordable, as well as a requirement that everyone has a public or private insurance policy. "People with insurance are paying for the medical care of those without insurance," he says. Frontrunner Tim Scott has authored Statehouse legislation to block access to federal health reforms.
Labor: One of the pillars of the Working Families platform is support for unions. Groce notes that other candidates want to limit the ability for unions to form in South Carolina and they heavily market the state's aversion to unions. Groce says there are other marketable traits that the Palmetto State can use to draw business, including things like a well-trained workforce. Groce's concerns go beyond organized labor, including equitable pay for all employees.
Energy: With alternative energy programs creating new industries in South Carolina, Groce says that momentum needs to be encouraged, utilizing the ample sunshine, wind, and wave possibilities. But he says energy companies also need to be prodded toward innovation. "They're holding back on research and development," he says.
Spending: Groce says the earmark process is a necessary evil. "How else do we get funding for what we need? At the moment, there's no other method," he says. Groce would call for a balanced budget every year, making exceptions only for emergencies.
Education: Groce says education should remain a national priority. "I keep thinking 'Where am I going to be when I retire?'" he says. "Who's going to be taking care of me? Who's going to work on my car? Who's going to manage my bank account?" Groce wants teachers to spend more time showing students the daily applications of math and science.
Independent: McCullough has been working with independent third parties for years, but recently decided that he was meant for public service. He says that business owners and other voters on the campaign trail have shown a similar frustration with the two-party system.
Taxes: McCullough refutes the argument that lower taxes will pull the country back out of the economic downturn. "We didn't end up in a recession because of too much government and too much taxes," he says. "No one has said to me that you've got to lower taxes so they'll hire again. They're not hiring because they're scared." He would address that fear by restoring faith in financial institutions through reforms that drive out corruption. "We need leadership to bring trust back into our system," McCullough says. "When people feel good, they're going to spend."
Military: The candidate points to a headline in the paper: "Aircraft carrier ups the pressure on North Korea," he reads before saying, "Doesn't this aircraft carrier up the pressure on us, too?" The U.S. needs to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, McCullough says. He also proposes a realignment commission that would reshape the military for the 21st century. "We have to take a look at our true needs," McCullough says. "We can have a strong defense at less expense." He also brings more than three decades of military experience to the table. "I saw the old Navy and the modern Air Force," McCullough says. "It gives me a perspective other candidates don't have."
Energy: McCullough supports energy innovations that are targeted at individual users instead of new technology that increases an energy company's network. "We talk about improving the grid, strengthening the grid," he says. "Let's look for innovation that isn't hooked up to a grid."
Healthcare: During his time in the state legislature, Scott has focused his energy on blocking federal healthcare reform, railing against "the notion of [health insurance] as a prerequisite for citizenship." He also opposes a public option, arguing that it would raise costs instead of driving down private insurance rates. Scott would use a top-down approach, directly benefiting insurance companies, doctors, and employers. He'd provide competition across state lines, cap court rewards in malpractice cases, and allow several small businesses to bundle their employee insurance plans.
Jobs: Scott has often noted his involvement in bringing the aerospace industry to Charleston as a leader on Charleston County Council — setting up the infrastructure that eventually aided in Boeing's decision to locate here.
Spending: Scott will seek out ways to cut costs, including a reducing the federal role in education. "We need to get more resources back to the states," he says. Scott would also seek out private partnerships to lower costs.
Earmarks: Scott is opposed to the system where legislators tie money for smaller projects back home to larger spending bills in Washington. He says the process lacks transparency and favors senior members in Congress, endangering worthwhile projects that meet objective standards. Suggesting earmarks will end with the new House in January, Scott says he'll work to create a new system that is led by the legislature, but weighs the merits of any spending request.
Military: Scott says the threat of terror will increase. He says Iran in particular is ripe for regime change, though he says he'd prefer a citizen uprising supported by the U.S. before considering direct engagement.