COLUMBIA — Let the framing for the 2014 S.C. governors race begin.
The familiarity between the campaigns of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen has led to an election-eve pace of news releases and accusations a year before their rematch next November.
Sheheen is going to follow President Barack Obamas failed federal health-care program and raise taxes, Republicans preach.
Haley has not improved the states economy and violated the privacy of South Carolinians with a massive theft of tax returns, Democrats counter.
Democrats see vulnerability for the first-term Republican governor in recent polls, but Haley holds a 3-to-1 edge in cash on hand.
This is war, said U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia.
Focusing on shortcomings
Sheheen, a Camden attorney, lost to Haley by 4.5 percentage points in 2010, when the governors seat opened after the end of Mark Sanfords second term.
Now, Haley carries a three-year record into the election.
The governor promotes her economic-development successes with plant tours -- she fired an assault rifle at a Columbia arms maker this summer -- and speeches about job growth, including expansions at major manufacturers BMW and Boeing.
Were excited about the opportunity to tell her story because its a great one, said senior campaign advisor Tim Pearson, who was Haleys 2010 campaign manager and former chief of staff in the governors office. Things are going the way that they should go, and its because of her leadership.
Sheheen has started touring the state speaking about his plans to improve the states schools, businesses and infrastructure to help that next generation of South Carolinians make sure we have an educated workforce, campaign manager Andrew Whalen said.
But most of the chatter from the campaigns and state parties is about their opponents shortcomings.
Democrats see Haley, despite her job claims, as having done little to improve the day-to-day lives of South Carolinians and her administration as making major mistakes.
The most notable bungle is failing to protect peoples personal information when foreign hackers stole tax-return information from the S.C. Department of Revenue last year, Democrats say.
Pearson says Haley has been upfront about how the state could have handled cyber-security better and has made changes after the data breach. The rhetoric he uses is grasping, Pearson said of Sheheen. Ultimately, well be successful because the states been successful.
Sheheens camp also continues to raise questions about Haleys ethics, especially as she -- like Sheheen -- pushes for ethics reforms.
Incidents that Democrats cite include state Ethics Commission penalties paid by Haleys campaign for filing incomplete contribution records, and reimbursements her campaign had to make to the state for disallowed uses of state-owned planes and mileage for state-funded vehicles taken to campaign events.
When it comes to Nikki Haley talking about ethics, that is the definition of the fox guarding the henhouse, Whalen said.
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Shame on them
The governors campaign and the S.C. GOP see Sheheen as an opportunistic lawyer with ties to Obama, who lost South Carolina by double digits in last years presidential election.
Sheheens willingness to take the three years of federal health-care expansion that would have cost the state nothing is a gateway to tethering South Carolina to spend tens of millions in the future on a program with problems enrolling people, Republicans say. (Democrats said 320,000 South Carolinians could get health insurance with the expansion.)
You cant have a governor whos just going to roll over for (Obama), Pearson said. Its pretty clear that the presidents health-care plan could be a disaster for South Carolina.
Whalen said Sheheen has expressed concerns about the health-care law and efforts to tie the senator to Obama -- including a recent Facebook posting by the S.C. GOP that featured an edited photo of the pair standing together -- are a distraction away from Haleys record.
Republicans also have called out Sheheen for what they say is hypocrisy on social issues, such as when the pro-life candidate attended a Democratic fundraiser at the Columbia home of a lawyer on the board of a pro-choice group or spoke to a Columbia gay pride rally when he opposes same-sex marriage.
Clyburn said the appearances only show Sheheen can work with people whose views differ from his.
To me, Sheheen is as conservative as anybody else, Clyburn said. Hes just not reactionary, not radical.
Haleys backers also accuse Democrats in the General Assembly of delaying ethics reform and government restructuring bills -- issues the governor and Sheheen both back -- in an effort to deprive Haley of political wins. If they hijack the legislative session for political purposes, then shame on them, Pearson said.
Whats next for her
Regardless of how the candidates frame themselves or their opponent, Haley holds one indisputable advantage -- South Carolinas Republican voters.
Among S.C. voters, self-identifying Republicans outnumber Democrats by 7.4 percentage points -- the 11th-largest gap in the nation, according to a Gallup poll.
Based on those Gallup findings and state Election Commission data, S.C. Republicans have about 200,000 more registered voters than Democrats, who have held the governors office just four of the past 26 years.
Haley also has a lot of cash to spend.
The governor had $3.2 million on hand at the end of September versus $1 million that Sheheen has raised over the past six months. The pair spent $8 million combined in 2010 with Sheheen holding a slight fundraising edge.
Money is the not end-all, be-all, Whalen said. You need just enough to get your message out.
Haley has spent portions of her first term raising money for her re-election bid, including recent trips to New York and Houston. Sheheens backers complain about how much of Haleys contributions have come from out of state, where the governor has become a favorite in national Republican circles after a prime-time speaking slot at last years GOP convention.
I think people get that shes looking at whats next for her, Whalen said citing the launch of Haleys re-election campaign in Greenville, which took place with a huge U.S. flag -- not South Carolinas -- as the backdrop.
But Sheheen also has traveled out of state to raise money, last month going to New York -- a sign that the challenger is casting a wider net to close the money gap. And the Democratic Governors Association is expected to aid Sheheen more than it did in 2010 -- news that Clyburn shared at last months Democratic rally in Orangeburg.
An association spokesman would not reveal how much it will spend to support Sheheen but called the race a solid pick-up opportunity.
Going to do just fine
Talk of national support comes after recent polls that, according to Democrats, show Haley is vulnerable.
A Democratic poll had the pair statistically tied and a Republican poll had a higher percentage of likely voters disapproving her Haleys job performance than approving. Haleys job-approval rating continues to be sub-50 percent, according to a Winthrop University poll released last month.
That (voter) frustration is palpable, Whalen said. It comes from wages. It comes from wondering if they can afford to send their kids to college.
Haleys camp says it is not worried.
The polls right now dont really matter, Pearson said. What does matter is that shes got a story to tell. Shes going to do just fine.
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