Charleston County Councilman Vic Rawl said he plans to go after U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint's national aspirations, claiming the first-term senator is not serving South Carolina's interests.
Rawl announced he would seek the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate during a statewide tour Monday. Rawl stepped into the race after Rock Hill attorney Chad McGowan dropped out last month.
"My biggest problem with Senator DeMint is he does not appear to be interested in the issues of South Carolina," said Rawl. "If you've got time to write a book," Rawl said referring to DeMint's 2009 book "Saving Freedom," "you're not representing your constituents,"
Rawl, 64, served four terms in the Legislature in the '70s and '80s, a dozen years as a circuit judge and 26 years in the S.C. National Guard. He was elected to Charleston County Council in 2008. Former auto industry manager Mike Ruckes, of Summerville, also is seeking the Democratic nomination.
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Rawl said voters are upset with the federal government and questioned "social programs that may be beyond our financial means." Rawl said he supports a national health care proposal that is working its way through Congress.
"It needs to be done. Period," Rawl said of the health care bill.
DeMint, a Republican, is possibly the state's most popular politician among party activists. He reported more than $3.2 million on hand, according to the most recent federal campaign disclosures, and has been traveling the country raising money for like-minded candidates in Florida, California and elsewhere.
Commenting on Rawl's criticism of DeMint's national profile, Joel Sawyer, executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, said, "We think that strategy is going to be incredibly ineffective." One reason why DeMint is popular elsewhere, Sawyer said, is that he is popular at home.
Rawl said he isn't daunted by the task, though he admits getting into the race late will not help. He said he expected third-party groups - who have made DeMint their top target - would donate to his cause.
State Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Fowler said she did not expect any other candidates would enter the race. Rawl is little-known outside of Charleston, she said, and will have to work hard to introduce himself to voters.
"He's going about it the right way," Fowler said of Rawl's barnstorming campaign announcement. "He's going to have more name recognition (today) than he did (yesterday)."
Former S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian estimated Rawl would need to raise at least $1.5 million for television advertising to introduce himself to voters. To equal the amount of money DeMint currently has on hand, Rawl would need to raise $13,400 every day until the Nov. 2 election.
"It doesn't make a difference how much I need to raise," Rawl said. "I'm going to run, and I'm going to compete."