U.S. Sen. Tim Scott made his first statewide appeal to voters, calmly fielding attacks from his two female challengers ahead of Tuesday’s election, when the North Charleston Republican is expected to become the first African-American elected to statewide office since Reconstruction.
“We have to realize that our senator is the selected senator and not the elected senator,” Democrat Joyce Dickerson, a black Richland County council member, said during the three candidates’ only debate on S.C. ETV Tuesday.
Dickerson was referring to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s appointment of the former U.S. congressman, state representative and Charleston County councilman to the Senate seat in 2012, when S.C. conservative icon Jim DeMint resigned.
American Party candidate Jill Bossi attacked Scott for his voting record, painting him as always voting “no.”
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“There's so many things that he's voted against, and very little that he's voted for. That's part of the problem that we're facing. We've got to start working on solutions,” said Bossi of Tega Cay, delivering her newly formed centrist party’s inaugural debate performance.
But, with polls showing him holding a 20-point lead, Scott’s pathway to finishing DeMint’s two-year unexpired term appears inevitable.
Scott has raised more than $6 million for his first statewide race compared to less than $100,000 for his two opponents combined.
Asked whether he got a “free pass” in the “benefit of incumbency,” Scott said that advantage is not “what it used to be.”
People do not like Washington, Scott said, adding he comes home “every single weekend” to go to his church, “hang out with my grandfather, who is 94 years old, and take my mom out to lunch because these are the reasons why I serve. I look at my nephew and I say to myself, ‘I can prepare a future for him.’ ”
Scott said his “opportunity agenda” focuses on education, job skills and allowing students to earn income while they learn through apprenticeship programs.
Formerly the owner of insurance and real-estate companies, Scott said it was wrong to “come up with something that will not work, Obamacare,” with the country saddled by more than $17.6 trillion in national debt. Regulations, he said, “only create more oppression on those folks who would create jobs, but instead they’re paying the highest corporate tax rate in all of the world. Washington is broken.”
Scott, paid $174,000 a year as a senator, said he has taken his message to all 46 S.C. counties, working in a fast-food restaurant, a Goodwill thrift store and waiting on tables while riding public buses “to appreciate what people are going through today” and hear their ideas.
“My best ideas aren’t mine,” Scott added. “I am a conduit for the ideas of South Carolinians to find its way into Washington, D.C., so that we can fix a broken system.”
Neither Dickerson or Bossi were buying that narrative, however.
“I wonder if (Scott) asked them whether or not $7.25 an hour was a good wage from them,” Dickerson later countered, adding she supports raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
The middle class, Dickerson said, is declining because people have to work two or three jobs to “put food on their table, educate their kids and take care of their families.”
Asked whether he supports equal pay for equal work for women in the workplace, Scott said women who leave the workplace to have children and later return cannot catch up to men in earnings “no matter how hard they work.”
“If we eliminated the seniority system and went to a meritocracy, where we actually decided to pay people based on how well they did their jobs ... women would fare much better in the workforce,” Scott said, saying that is something a female former CEO of a computer company taught him.
“That is malarkey,” countered Bossi, who spent 30 years as an executive managing procurement for Bank of America and the American Red Cross. She warned viewers not to fall for “the old wife’s tale ... or the old husband’s tale ... that (wage disparity) is because women have to leave their jobs to have families.”
“I am the breadwinner for my family. I never stayed at home with my children,” Bossi said. “That is something that my husband did for our family. And I was discriminated against job after job after job. It meant moving positions to increase my salary.”
The candidates also fielded questions on immigration and foreign policy – two areas where Scott differs from his fellow Republican Lindsey Graham, the state’s senior U.S. senator.
Scott said the United States should provide the “air cover” and intelligence to defeat Islamic militants but should not be leading a ground offensive, a possibility Graham has not ruled out. The United States must ensure “the boots that are on the ground are the boots that live in the Middle East,” Scott said.
Bossi and Dickerson – who like Scott have immediate family members who are in the military or retired veterans – largely agreed with Scott’s stance, calling for less involvement in foreign conflicts.
Pro-life Scott defended himself twice, saying that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a company’s right not to pay for birth control for employees — which he hailed — was not discrimination toward women but an “issue of religious liberty.”
Scott also said he voted to reduce interest rates on student loans, ending his comments with a single, “Thanks.”