Eight GOP candidates for the 1st Congressional District met in a hangar of the USS Yorktown on Tuesday night. Instead of trying to distinguish themselves from their opponents, the candidates did their best to sing from the same ultra conservative song book.
Paul Thurmond. You can easily see Paul’s problem when he tries to explain how he’ll actually be effective in Washington. He’s found a way to work with Democrats here in Charleston regarding increased transparency on County Council. But that’s a much easier sell in the general election. So, Thurmond’s job last night was to focus on his GOP bona fides. He did so, questioning global warming and supporting English as the official U.S. language. Focusing on his own career and personal experience was also a plus as he politely avoided a question about his father’s legacy.
Stovall Witte. Someone Witte’s age could have looked like an old clunker on a stage with seven newer models, but he had the right amount of energy and statesmanly wisdom to correct his opponents and offer a valid argument for experience. He’s not quite as aggressive as his “Demand Change” slogan would suggest — and that’s a good thing. The challenge for him is that there aren’t that many more opportunities to show off for the cameras.
Robert Burton or Ben Frasier. It’s not our job to tell Republicans how to run their campaigns, but responses from the candidates last night were a hard turn to the right. According to them, global warming doesn’t exist, Wall Street needs less oversight not more, and gays need to stay out of our foxholes. In a crowded field of nine primary players, every vote counts. Let’s remember, this was a district Republicans won by only 4 percent just 18 months ago. And those weren’t Tea Party votes that went to Democrat Linda Ketner, they were moderates that may grow uncomfortable by the strictly partisan rhetoric.
Carroll Campbell. As arrogant and entitled as ever, almost as if he considers it an asset. Campbell says he was the only one willing to take on the establishment — that would be fellow Republican Henry Brown, who one the 2008 primary with 70 percent of the vote. In one breath, he says that Washington needs someone who has never served in public office. In the next, he argues that it’s too complicated in Washington for a local county councilman like Paul Thurmond. Campbell’s best asset is his businesses experience and he’s starting to use it, but he needs to drop the attitude.
Mark Lutz. You can tell that the Mt. Pleasant businessman has thought really hard about some of the tough issues facing Washington, getting beyond the mystifying GOP answer of eliminating the deficit and cutting taxes. But the format last night was all about fighting for time, with candidates jumping to their feet to answer a question and occasionally even yelling down an opponent. Lutz just didn’t fight for his time and essentially answered questions when asked. And that just wasn’t enough.
Tim Scott. There were no softballs for the frontrunner last night. He stood firmly on the principles that have enamored the GOP establishment, but Scott is going to have a tough time winning over voters who see a value in federal funds coming to South Carolina projects like, oh, the USS Yorktown. Scott didn’t do much to convince those looking for a problem solver in Washington, suggesting that he’ll work with Barack Obama only in cases where the president admits that he’s wrong. Scott talks convincingly about a more diverse Republican party, but he’s talking about diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, not diverse opinions.