Most people, with 14 months to go before Election Day 2014, aren’t focused yet on how they plan to vote in next year’s governor’s race, if they have thought about it at all.
But Sen. Vincent Sheheen is hoping to get the process started. The Camden Democrat is planning a second try at defeating Nikki Haley for the state’s top office after a narrow defeat in 2010. On Tuesday, Sheheen made several stops in Sumter, including at The Item, during one of several appearances he plans to make across the state before voters cast their ballots.
“I’ve got a lot of stops every week,” he said in a sit-down interview with The Item. “Yesterday I was in Columbia and went through Lexington for some meetings. I’m heading over to Greenville in a day or two, and then I’m going down to the Lowcountry.”
Sheheen thinks his best chance of reversing the election results of four years earlier is in selling his message face to face with voters in every corner of the state. He talked with patrons at Sumter Cut Rate Drugs for breakfast about improving state government, funding public education and infrastructure improvements. He visited Morris College to talk about the high cost of college tuition, and he spoke with local business owners about improving the economy by growing small businesses.
The last point, in particular, Sheheen stresses as different from his opponent’s economic development strategy.
“I’m very thankful that we can recruit businesses from out of state, and that’s important, but we know every state does that,” Sheheen said. “So successful states are putting in place the infrastructure and environment to allow small business and locally owned businesses to grow. That way, the profits that come from those businesses stay in our local communities.”
The one-time Democratic nominee wants to wage a local campaign for the governor’s office, which he contrasts with Haley’s trips out of state and presence on the national stage. He mentioned the governor’s campaign announcement Monday in the Upstate that featured three other Republican governors offering their support.
“My opponent talks about Washington, D.C., a lot, and her friends from out of state. I think this campaign is about South Carolina,” he said. “(South Carolinians) want someone who will spend more time in their communities and less time in New York or Los Angeles or D.C. or Paris.”
Sheheen hammered Haley for administrative failings such as the theft of 3 million tax records from the state Department of Revenue and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s handling of a tuberculosis outbreak in a Greenwood County school.
“They allowed kids to go to school for two months with a tuberculosis infection raging without telling the parents, which is shocking to me as a parent of public school kids,” he said. “This administration has a well-documented pattern of keeping things secret. They’ve really bred a culture of incompetence.”
A detail-oriented administration would also focus on solving problems with the state Department of Employment and Workforce, which Sheheen said has paid out tens of millions of dollars in fraudulent claims, while the S.C. Department of Social Services faces millions in fines “because they can’t track down deadbeat parents in compliance with national standards.”
Instead, Sheheen wants to lead a “practical, not ideological,” administration that can work across the aisle with Republicans to get things done, like a recent effort Sheheen sponsored to increase access to 4-year-old kindergarten in counties that don’t already offer the program.
“One of my strengths is that I’m known as a bridge builder. I’m known as someone who can work with members of both parties,” he said. “I’m elected in a very Republican area, and I like to believe it’s because people trust me and believe I can get the job done. When I sponsor legislation, I sponsor it with a Republican and a Democrat.”
That’s the message that Sheheen wants to get out to everyone he encounters on his trips around the state. Visiting places such as Sumter, he said, gives him the energy to tackle problems in the state government.
“It’s frustrating in state government because it’s so broken. It’s easy to get pessimistic about the future,” he said. “But when you get out on the road, you see so many people accomplishing things, regardless of whether they’re a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, together in local communities. It gives you hope again that we can have a government again that’s not dysfunctional.”