Republican Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer said Monday he regretted comments comparing people who take public assistance to stray animals, but the incident continued to draw fire.
In a phone interview, Bauer said he regretted the remarks "because now it's being used as an analogy, not a metaphor.
"Do I regret it? Sure I do. I wouldn't have to be taking this heat otherwise."
In a speech at a town hall meeting in the Upstate, Bauer revisited instructions he said his grandmother had given him when he was a small child. Bauer said his grandmother, who was not highly educated, had told him to stop feeding stray animals.
"You know why?" he asked. "Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a human ample food supply."
Bauer, 40, later said his intent was to explain the government is "breeding a culture of dependency" with its social program, which he said has grown out of control and "amounts to little more than socialism, paid for by hardworking, tax-paying families ... against their wishes."
Bauer, a candidate for governor, was widely criticized for the remarks. But there are some who think Bauer scored some political points among voters.
"The comments came across as unnecessarily cruel, and perhaps a bit tin ear," said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political science professor and pollster. "However, I do believe the message was delivered."
Huffmon said the message was aimed at social and fiscal conservatives in the state, telling them social welfare is a waste of money, doesn't work and doesn't solve the problem.
That message "has been a staple" of social conservatives and evangelicals who believe personal responsibility is a key both to salvation and success, Huffmon said. Subsidizing people with social welfare takes away the incentive to be responsible, he said, explaining the viewpoint.
"So, I do believe the message was targeted to try to win those voters over, and I think those voters got the message loud and clear, and he's trying to help himself in the Republican primary."
Bauer, who has been up and down in early polling in the race for governor, denied the politicization charge. He said his comments were not aimed at those receiving unemployment, children or the disabled, but at those who chronically receive welfare, which he said is on the rise in South Carolina.
"There's a big difference between being truly needy and truly lazy," Bauer said in his Upstate comments.
The numbers may not bear out Bauer's comments.
The Department of Social Services administers both the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which was created under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act under President Bill Clinton to get people off federal assistance and back to work.
The temporary assistance program is up in South Carolina by 46 percent since 2007, and the food program is up by 31 percent.
"Families in South Carolina are hurting," said Kathleen Hayes, DSS director, last month, as the agency absorbed a 3 percent to 4 percent cut in November, then a 5 percent cut in December.
"We are seeing people who have never sought services of DSS before," she said. "We are running out of options."
Danielle Vinson, a political science professor at Furman University, said she was surprised Bauer's Republican counterparts in the 2010 gubernatorial race had not taken him on for the remarks, which may be a topic at the South Carolina Republican Party's debate in Charleston Thursday night.
Democrats immediately criticized Bauer for the remarks. On Monday, when asked by the media, the Republicans issued statements.
"I'm sure Lieutenant Governor Bauer realizes he chose his words poorly in this instance," said Attorney General Henry McMaster. All conservatives share Bauer's concern, McMaster said, for the large national debt caused by federal entitlement programs.
"I hope the Democrats will now stop their cynical effort to inflame passions and exploit the issue for political gain," he said.
"Unfortunately, on campaign trails, people misspeak," U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett said Monday, as he traveled the state promoting his new jobs plan.
Barrett said he agreed with Bauer's underlying premise that the cycle of entitlement needs to be broken.
"One of the ways we break that cycle of dependency is creating good jobs," Barrett said.
Asked whether Bauer should apologize, Barrett said only Bauer can make that call.
A spokesman for Lexington Rep. Nikki Haley said Bauer's words spoke for themselves.
"If that's the kind of thing the lieutenant governor wants to focus his campaign on, that's of his prerogative," said Tim Pearson, Haley's spokesman. "Nikki is focused on bringing accountability and fiscal responsibility to government and on creating jobs in South Carolina."
Republican Party chairwoman Karen Floyd said she understood what Bauer was trying to say - a sentiment she said is shared across the state - but, in her view, the statement was hurtful.
"The decision to apologize is up to the lieutenant governor, but at a minimum, this should be a lesson to us all to choose our words more carefully," Floyd said.
Staff writer Gina Smith contributed. Reach Burris at (803) 771-8398.