Phil Dudley has quit his job to become the full-time campaign manager for Democrat Mary Geren, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan.
"It is a big leap but I think Mary is the right person," Dudley said Monday.
He left his job Aug. 1 as a compliance analyst with a consumer finance company called Regional Management Corp. He also plans on stepping down soon from his post as president of the Young Democrats of Anderson County.
Dudley, 33, is a Florida native who moved to Pendleton two years ago when his wife Katie started classes at Clemson University on her doctoral degree in parks, recreation and tourism management. He is among 46 South Carolina Democrats who are receiving intensive political training as James E. Clyburn Political Fellows
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Though he has served as a campaign volunteer before, this is the first time that Dudley has taken a paid position with a candidate. He said his decision to quit his job to run Geren's campaign was based largely on the enthusiasm he seen among voters since she entered the race in April.
Geren, who is an English instructor at Tri-County Technical College, said Dudley "has been an invaluable asset to the campaign."
"I am humbled that he took the risk to quit his job," she said.
South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson said Dudley is an "example of young people across the state and nation who feel a moral obligation to get involved in politics."
Geren and Dudley both said they are confident that her campaign will be able to raise enough money for him to keep food on his table.
Since announcing her candidacy, Geren has received more campaign money from individual donors than Duncan.
But Duncan still has a sizable financial advantage. According to the latest Federal Election Commission reports, he has $52,643 in campaign cash on hand, compared to $8,442 for Geren.
Duncan, a Republican from Laurens, has not been seriously challenged since being elected in 2010 to represent a district that includes part of Greenville and all of Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties.
Dave Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University, said Geren has "no chance" of ousting Duncan unless the economy nosedives or other circumstances change dramatically before the 2018 election.
"Most voters are not going to throw out an incumbent when the economy is doing well," he said.
Woodard said Dudley's decision to quit his job is a sign of "the eagerness of youth."
Dudley said he realizes that Geren's campaign faces an "uphill battle."
"But we do have a shot," he said.
Geren said voters are concerned that Duncan supported a Republican proposal that would have caused thousands of people in his district to lose their health-insurance coverage. She also said that voters are worried about the policies of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, as well as efforts to deport children of illegal aliens.
Robertson said other factors could make Duncan vulnerable, including his silence regarding comments President Donald Trump made criticizing the German auto industry, which accounts for thousands of jobs in the Upstate.