Gubernatorial rematch

Sheheen vs. Haley again in ’14?

abeam@thestate.comSeptember 5, 2012 

— State Sen. Vincent Sheheen is meeting privately with Democratic governors at the Democratic National Convention this week in preparation for a possible 2014 rematch with Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

“I’ve been asking some questions about what it was like for them in their states, just for me to learn and listen,” Sheheen said Tuesday, shortly after speaking to S.C. delegates at the convention. “Whereas, traditionally, Democratic leaders and other states haven’t been too interested in South Carolina, I think we’re on the radar screen, and I think that’s good for South Carolina.”

Sheheen, who lost narrowly to Lexington’s Haley two years ago, would not say who he has met with, other than Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who spoke to the S.C. delegation on Monday. Like Sheheen, Schweitzer is a Democrat in a state that routinely votes Republican.

“He’s very proud of his heritage in the rural part of his state,” Sheheen said of Schweitzer. “We talked about a lot of those shared commonalities.”

Sheheen repeatedly has said he has not decided if he will run for governor again in 2014. But in at least two public speeches this week in Charlotte, the Camden attorney appeared to be testing out a possible campaign theme: Look what happens when Republicans are in charge.

Tuesday morning, Sheheen brought S.C. Democrats to their feet as he blamed Republicans for the increasing cost of public-college tuition and accused them of increasing class sizes in public schools while shrinking teacher pay. (This year, the Republican-controlled Legislature gave teachers a 2 percent raise.)

Sheheen spoke in mostly general terms, not mentioning any Republican by name. But he took some barely veiled shots at Haley, including:

Asking “what would ethics look like” in Republican-controlled South Carolina, a reference to the ethics charges lodged against Haley – charges the House Ethics Committee cleared the governor of.

• Pointing out South Carolina’s 9.6 percent unemployment rate, the fifth-highest in the nation. “Don’t listen to all this, ‘I’m working so hard. I’m bringing jobs to South Carolina,’” Sheheen said, referring to a Haley refrain. Since taking office, Haley has announced companies plan to create 27,000 jobs in South Carolina.

Saying Republicans have “destroyed public emails” – a reference to Haley’s office deleting some emails. Haley says her office since has changed its document-retention policy.

Haley has said it is too early to talk about running for re-election. “The governor is focused on the job she was elected to do, not the next election,” spokesman Rob Godfrey said Tuesday. “It’s much too soon to think about a 2014 election.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, a Republican from North Charleston, said Tuesday that Haley is well-positioned to win re-election. “There’s no question Nikki Haley has done a tremendous job,” he said. “If Sen. Sheheen decides to make his bid again, I think he will meet with the same results as last time.”

But state Democratic leaders think otherwise.

They clearly want Sheheen to run for governor again.

State party chairman Dick Harpootlian introduced Sheheen on Tuesday as “a 2014 candidate for governor” – an introduction that Sheheen said was “complimentary but not accurate.”

Still, Sheheen ended his speech by telling delegates “two years from now, four years from now and six years from now, you will see things change in South Carolina.”

“That was a hell of a state Senate campaign speech,” Harpootlian joked.

‘Build a farm team’

While Sheheen has been testing out the campaign waters, other S.C. Democrats say they are more concerned this week with building a Democratic “farm team” than focusing on the race for governor.

“We’ve got to figure out how to build a farm team. ... We’ve got to drill down, drill down to state and local races,” state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg told S.C. delegates Monday. “One office we don’t have a problem with is someone running for governor. We’ve got at least four or five people out there now talking about it.”

Delegates – including Sheheen, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia and state Rep. John King of Rock Hill – have addressed S.C. college students this week, hoping to turn them into Democrats.

One of those students was Raina Wallace, a 20-year-old Columbia College student. Wallace interned for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from Seneca, but said she considers herself an independent, adding she has not decided who she will vote for.

“(S.C. Democrats) have been successful in getting their message out,” she said.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038. Staff reporter Andrew Shain contributed.

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