Upstart winner in SC’s 7th District race wows once-wary party leaders

abeam@thestate.comSeptember 7, 2012 

SC Primary

Gloria Tinubu, center, the Democratic nominee for the 7th Congressional District seat, talks to a pair of supporters as she wins every county in the district at the campaign headquarters in Conway, S.C., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. She defeated Preston Brittain. (AP Photo/The Sun News, Janet Blackmon Morgan)

FILE PHOTOGRAPH — the ASSOCIATED PRESS

— She was the Democratic spoiler whose own party questioned her win in the primary race to represent South Carolina’s new congressional district.

But on the last day of the Democratic National Convention, Gloria Bromell Tinubu wowed the S.C. delegation with a speech paying homage to the party’s past while making a pitch to be part of its future.

In doing so, Tinubu began the process of reconciliation with party leaders that she hopes will lead to raising the $1.5 million that she said she needs for the November general election against Republican Tom Rice, chairman of the Horry County Commission.

“Raise money,” Tinubu replied, when asked what she planned to do Thursday in Charlotte. “Meet friends and raise money.”

Tinubu told the S.C. delegates that she grew up on a farm, raised by parents who did not have more than a fifth-grade education. She said she was the first person in her family to go to college, riding around USC on a three-speed bike that was a gift from her father and wearing clothes that she made on her mother’s sewing machine

She also answered questions about her background – having been elected to the Georgia House of Representatives only to resign and move to South Carolina to run for the state’s new 7th District congressional seat, which includes the Pee Dee region and is anchored in Horry County.

“(My husband) got a job in Atlanta,” she told delegates. “That’s how I ended up in Atlanta, but my heart has always been here.”

Tinubu surprised many by winning the Democratic nomination over Preston Brittain, endorsed by many party leaders. After Tinubu was declared the winner of the party’s June primary, an attorney sued to force a runoff, a move backed by state party chairman Dick Harpootlian. Tinubu won the runoff, too.

But Thursday, S.C. delegates lined up to write Tinubu checks after her speech. Former Richland County Councilwoman Bernice Scott ran up to Tinubu, waving a checkbook at her.

“Her background, her compassion for people, her education level, the things she went through in life – she wants to give back to the community,” Scott said. “I almost gave her my house (payment).”

Tinubu, an African-American woman, faces a tough race, according to Scott Huffmon, a political science professor and pollster at Rock Hill’s Winthrop University. Huffmon said research shows that, for African-American Democrats in the South to win, they need to run in a district where at least 40 percent of the voting-age population is black. The black population in the new S.C. congressional district is 27.6 percent.

Tinubu said she hopes to win the seat by motivating the district’s Democratic base and also by “appealing to folks in the middle and winning over some Republican women.” In the district’s populous Horry County that means appealing to retirees, Huffmon said.

“A lot of the Democratic push for women that has to do with reproductive rights and other things is aimed at middle-aged and younger women,” Huffmon said. “A lot of those folks (in Horry County) are not as comfortable with Obama. Her attaching herself strongly to Obama’s campaign makes it harder to run.”

But Tinubu had no trouble exciting the S.C. Democrats gathered in Charlotte, telling the delegates, “This party has made it possible for me as an African American – but also as a woman – to dare to offer myself for service. This party is the only party in this state that has ever elected a woman to Congress. ... I have a debt that I owe to South Carolina.”

She left the stage to chants of “Gloria! Gloria!”

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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