Spartanburg County Republicans kicked off their big push to the November general election on Labor Day, drawing one 2018 gubernatorial hopeful along the way.
In the conservative Upstate, Republican primaries are often the most competitive races. Several GOP lawmakers face no general election opposition, and Republicans are mounting challenges against two longtime Democratic lawmakers to boot — Democratic state Sen. Glenn Reese and state Rep. Harold Mitchell.
With about 100 GOP activists gathered, state House Speaker Pro Tem Tommy Pope, R-York, worked the crowd and said in an interview that he's counting on Spartanburg County to support him in a 2018 gubernatorial bid.
"The party has always been strong, and I've had a good relationship with Spartanburg," Pope said. "They are just good solid supporters. I look forward to getting past my election back home and in 2018 getting the support of Spartanburg County."
Pope is currently running for re-election in House District 47 with opposition from the Constitution Party. He formerly served as solicitor in York and Union counties, and he's perhaps best known as the prosecutor who put Susan Smith behind bars for drowning her two boys. Pope said he remains focused on his current re-election campaign.
"I don't want people to believe I am not focused on doing my job back home," he said.
Pope was among several elected officials who attended the Labor Day picnic hosted by the Spartanburg County Republican Women at former Spartanburg County GOP Chairman Rick Beltram's house at Carolina Country Club. The event was free and open to the public.
S.C. Secretary of State Mark Hammond and S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, who has been mentioned as a possible 2018 gubernatorial candidate, were among the attendees.
Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright was the event's keynote speaker. Wright, a Republican, faces Independence Party candidate Russell Lynch in November.
"I think the field of Republican candidates is really strong," Wright said. "I am proud to be one of the Republican candidates. I am not a Republican because it's popular. I am a Republican because that's the way I believe."
Michael Fowler, the Republican running against Mitchell for the state House District 31 seat, said he is optimistic about the Republican Party's future.
"I wish African-Americans would look at both parties and see which one benefits us the most," Fowler said.
State Rep. Mike Forrester, R-Spartanburg, faces Democrat Luke Quillen in House District 34. Forrester highlighted his record during the picnic.
"We have spent hours trying to eliminate regulations for business, and we have been successful," Forrester said.
Forrester said if he's re-elected he would work to build a long-term sustainable funding source to help rebuild the state's roads and bridges.