Rock Hill lawyer Chad McGowan, a Democrat, jumped into the U.S. Senate race Monday, vowing to take on Republican incumbent Sen. Jim DeMint.
McGowan, a trial attorney who has primarily handled medical malpractice cases, says he is a conservative Democrat willing to vote with Republicans or Democrats to improve conditions for South Carolina's working and middle classes.
"I don't think anybody can rationally say the middle class is being represented by anybody in Washington," he said.
McGowan's list of complaints about Washington politics includes a nearly $12 trillion national debt and the bailouts of the automobile and financial services industries, which, he said, have proved to be "a bill of goods."
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Still, McGowan supports Democratic causes, including health care reform, with or without a public option.
"To do nothing is not an option," McGowan said. "To do everything is not possible."
While the father of three hopes to attract independent voters with his moderate, populist approach, he faces an uphill battle against DeMint, who is nearing the $3 million mark in his re-election campaign.
DeMint, a former owner of a Greenville market research company, became a White House and Democratic target after suggesting the GOP could make the health care issue Obama's "Waterloo."
McGowan said Monday he's not talking about DeMint at this early stage in the campaign. But the state GOP is talking about McGowan.
"It's clear that the Democratic Party has a pretty weak bench," said Joel Sawyer, spokesman for the state GOP. "He's a personal injury attorney who's barely from South Carolina."
Sawyer pointed to a 2004 donation McGowan made to U.S. Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign in which McGowan listed a North Carolina home address.
"We don't think that someone barely from South Carolina can represent the interests of South Carolina taxpayers the way Senator DeMint has," Sawyer said.
McGowan said he and his family lived in Charlotte for a few years but that he has spent the overwhelming majority of his life in South Carolina.
A graduate of Irmo High School, Clemson University and Emory University law school, McGowan said his platform will focus on job growth, debt control and smart government rather than social issues.
DeMint, 58, who served in the U.S. House before winning his Senate seat, has twice been ranked by National Journal as the most conservative U.S. senator and is increasingly known as a champion of social conservative causes.
"The social issues are not that germane to whether you're going to be able to pay your mortgage at the end of the day or send your kid to college," he said.
McGowan joins two other Democratic challengers, Mike Ruckes of Summerville and Gary Stephens of North Myrtle Beach.