Even as controversy permeates his candidacy, Jay Stamper is plotting his campaign as a Democratic candidate in a Republican stronghold.
"I'm going to challenge Republicans on what kind of conservative values they are voting for," Stamper said.
During a lunch with Spartanburg County Democrats at Golden Corral on Monday, Stamper attacked Sen. Lindsey Graham's loyalty to conservative principles and said spending trillions of dollars on foreign engagements isn't fiscal conservatism, limiting abortion and marriage isn't limited government conservatism, and supporting the National Security Administration's data collection isn't constitutional conservatism.
"I will settle for their grudging and reluctant support," Stamper said of Republicans and independents he hopes to sway.
Grudging and reluctant support has come from some corners of Stampers' own party after revelations he pleaded guilty to three felony charges associated with the illegal sale of securities in 2006. Stamper was ordered to repay millions of dollars and said at Monday's meeting that $600,000 of that came from his own pocket. Stamper called the incident "a business mistake I made several years ago," and said securities laws are very complicated, and he acted on advice from two teams of lawyers.
"I never meant to hurt anyone. There was no malice. In a way I was reckless but there were mitigating circumstances," he said.
Stamper moved to South Carolina a year ago to run for Graham's seat, and despite his history, he said he has found most people welcoming.
That welcoming, hospitable spirit will be important for South Carolina moving forward in growing the economy and recruiting new businesses without giving away millions in "corporate welfare," Stamper said.
While the local party tries to get all the candidates to visit before major elections, Chairman Ron Romine said he placed extra importance on having Stamper visit to discuss his past in the open.
"There's been some strong opinions (within the state party) that maybe he's not the best representative, but I don't necessarily believe that, which is why we wanted to have him here," Romine said.
The lunch marked Stamper's third visit with Spartanburg County's Democratic Party. Despite being in a deep red corner of a deep red state, Romine said he thinks there is some momentum building behind Democratic causes.
"There's a certain tide that's turning here," he said. "We know it's an uphill fight, but we think the winds are blowing in our direction. There's an increase in Hispanics, and young voters tend more toward Democratic causes."
Stamper is the only Democrat who has announced a bid for U.S. Senate against Graham. Graham faces four primary challengers — state Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg, Lowcountry public relations executive Nancy Mace, Anderson businessman Richard Cash and Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor.