Democrat Chad McGowan, who announced his Senate campaign on Monday, sees the value in reforming earmarks — the system where Congressmen find money for projects that are supported back home, sometimes with little regard for merit or value.

But McGowan is taking aim at Republican Sen. Jim DeMint for his continued boycott against federal earmarks for South Carolina projects.

“That’s worked beautifully,” McGowan says sarcastically.

He doesn’t want to pile up more debt, but when one out of 10 fishermen says he won’t fish, nine other guys end up with more fish.

“It’s an absolute disservice,” McGowan says. “You can get the money for this state and, at the same time, work to reform the system.”

But he wonders if DeMint’s goal is reform or ratings.

“If your goal is to be a talking head on TV, then bipartisanship is not important,” McGowan says. “If your goal is to get something done for the state, then bipartisanship is absolutely important.”

A short-term resolution on the healthcare debate may be evident by the end of the year, but it’s certain to be a talking point if McGowan makes it out of the June primary against retired auto worker Mike Ruckes.

DeMint has been one of the strongest opponents to Democratic healthcare proposals and tort reform has played a major role in his alternative plan.

McGowan has spent his career representing injured patients in high-profile malpractice suits. South Carolina enacted it’s own medical malpractice reform about five years ago and he says that has worked in filtering out frivolous lawsuits.

Instead of a public option, McGowan supports a highly regulated private insurance market with minimum levels of coverage, much like your car insurance.

“Certainly, we don’t want the government between us and our doctor,” he says. “But I don’t want the CEO of the insurance company in the room either with his stock options in one hand and his calculator in the other.”

Even though a vote is expected soon, McGowan says healthcare will be an evolving issue.

“Just like the civil rights struggle was not done right the first time,” he says. “People will have to realize that the sky will not fall, the world will not end when there’s healthcare reform.”

Economic growth would be a priority for McGowan, including incentives for mom and pop to start hiring again.

“Instead of trying to push the string across the floor, let’s pull it,” he says. “And we pull it with small business jobs.”

Primary Hurdle

Before McGowan takes on DeMint, he’s got to prove his mettle within his own party. McGowan speaks candidly about registering as a Republican in 2000.

“That’s when I believed what I was told: Republicans were for small government, fiscal responsibility, and tolerance,” he says. “Once I started paying attention, I noticed the hypocrisy of it all. There’s a big difference between talking and acting, between saying and living.”

McGowan’s views on some issues seems indicative of this moderate conversion.

McGowan is a gun owner and a firm supporter of the Second Amendment.

“It’s the way I grew up,” he says. “It’s just what Southerners do.”

His position on abortion is more complicated than “pro-choice” or “anti-abortion,” he says.

While he agrees with Jim DeMint in a lot of ways on abortion, McGowan supports a woman’s right to choose in the cases of rape and incest.

Beyond that, McGowan says, “I don’t think it’s an unlimited and unfettered right.” He describes his support as a sliding scale weighted toward the mother early in the pregnancy and toward the child later.

The issue of whether South Carolina would have to sanction gay marriage isn’t likely to come up on the congressional radar, but there has been some indication that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of gay and lesbian couples, will see a challenge in the next few years. McGowan says he’ll stand with the majority of South Carolinians who voted to put a gay marriage ban in the state constitution in 2006.

“It’s inappropriate for one person, when the will of the people is so strong, to say anything different,” he says. “This is a representative government.”

Pressed on providing the same rights to gay couples that’s afforded to straight couples, McGowan says civil unions aren’t a bad compromise.

“You can’t do anything radical because people are scared of that,” he says.

In regards to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which prevents gay and lesbian troops from serving openly, McGowan says he’ll rely on feedback from military leaders.

“The military to me is a different culture and place,” he says. “The input from the commanders of the military services will be critical.”