SC GOP chairman confronted by House candidate’s brother

Dust-up adds tension to racefor House District 78

10/22/2012 4:05 PM

11/07/2012 7:59 AM

“When Democrats are scratching their heads wondering why people are leaving their party in droves, and states are turning red, you don’t have to look very far to understand why,” S.C. GOP chairman Chad Connelly said Monday during an impromptu news conference in front of the law office of Democratic S.C. House candidate Beth Bernstein. “Anyone got any questions?”

“I do,” said Bernstein’s brother, Lowell Bernstein. “Why are you on the property?”

Bernstein’s brother and her husband, Rip Sanders, eventually succeeded in getting Connelly to leave their property — after threatening to call the police.

But Connelly just moved to the sidewalk, where he continued calling Bernstein — who is trying to unseat four-term Republican House 78 incumbent Joan Brady — a “liberal trial lawyer,” who, he said, defends “multiple DUI offenders and cocaine traffickers.”

“For her to claim on her mailings ... that she is a businesswoman and a fiscal conservative ... it’s just disingenuous. It’s untruthful,” Connelly said. “The people of South Carolina ought to know that.”

During Connelly’s news conference, Bernstein said she was inside her law office, working on a real estate closing and meeting with a client about a probate matter. She said she has never handled a criminal defense case.

But her law firm, Bernstein & Bernstein, does do criminal defense work. Its website lists “fourth DUI arrests” and “cocaine distribution or trafficking” under its areas of expertise.

“That’s the basis of our democracy. Everyone should have a defense,” Bernstein said. “My brother and I manage a law firm where we have 10 employees. We sign the front of a paycheck. So what about that does not make me a small-business owner?”

Bernstein and Brady are in a tight race for House District 78, which includes parts of Forest Acres, Arcadia Lakes and Northeast Richland County. Considered a “swing” district, Republicans and Democrats have traded the seat twice since 1999. Democrats see the race as a chance to pick up a seat in the Republican-controlled House.

Bernstein has criticized Brady as contributing to the state’s ethics woes. Specifically, Bernstein has criticized Brady for voting to dismiss the ethics charges against GOP Gov. Nikki Haley earlier this year.

“(Connelly is) concerned that what I am trying to do resonates with voters in my district,” Bernstein said. “Voters are frustrated with our current leadership, and our current representative for House District 78.”

Brady has tried to define Bernstein as a liberal trial lawyer who would work against bills dealing with criminal domestic violence and children’s issues in the State House, issues where Brady says she has been a leader.

Brady said she did not know about Connelly’s news conference. She told a reporter she would comment later after she “digests it a little bit.”

Luke Byars, Brady’s political consultant, said the campaign supports Connelly’s comments. “I can’t find anything factually wrong with the release or what’s out there,” Byars said. “The website says one thing, and she says another.”

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