Politics & Government

Who is James Smith? Democratic SC governor candidate releases new ad

Democratic gubernatorial candidate James Smith talks with Gamecock fans before the game at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC, Saturday, September 01, 2018.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate James Smith talks with Gamecock fans before the game at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC, Saturday, September 01, 2018. tdominick@thestate.com

More than half of South Carolinians don’t know his name, but starting Tuesday, S.C. voters will learn more about James Smith.

The Democratic nominee for governor Tuesday released his first fall campaign ad, “The Call,” in November’s race for S.C. governor. The ad, which will run on multiple platforms during the fall campaign, highlights the Columbia state representative’s combat service, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The biographical ad is an attempt to introduce Smith to many S.C. voters.

Despite his 22 years in the S.C. House, only 42 percent of voters know who Smith is, according to a poll released by Smith’s campaign. Smith is running against far-better-known Republican incumbent Henry McMaster, who is backed by President Donald Trump and making his seventh run for statewide office.

“We are very proud to share James’ story, which sheds light on his character and speaks to why people who know James like him and admire him,” Smith campaign spokesman Brad Warthen said. “This is a guy who had a comfortable job as a lawyer in the National Guard ... and he made a decision to resign ... and lead troops in battle because he felt obliged to do that as an American.”

Narrated by Smith’s wife, Kirkland, the ad tells how the Columbia attorney resigned his commission as a lawyer in the S.C. Army National Guard in order to join the infantry and fight the Taliban following 9/11.

While investigating attacks in one area of Afghanistan, Smith came under heavy Taliban fire. Smith, who was on a mountain top, threw himself over a ledge to escape the enemy fire, losing his cellphone in the fall. Kirkland Smith talks about getting a phone call from the Taliban, who had recovered her husband’s cellphone lost during the firefight.

The ad stresses Smith’s commitment “to put country and South Carolina before politics.”

Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said the ad helps Smith establish legitimacy with an important S.C. constituency. More than 400,000 military veterans, or one of every 10 adults, call the state home, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“This basically says, ‘Here are my credentials. I served like you did,’ and takes away any obstacle as far as his ability to reach (veterans),” Huffmon said.

McMaster was in the Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps from 1969 until 1975 but did not deploy overseas. The Republican has the backing of many veterans, including retired Marine Maj. Gen. Jim Livingston, a Medal of Honor recipient, and S.C. Adjutant General Robert Livingston.

The governor’s campaign and Republican Governors Association has focused on Smith’s record as a legislator, going after his record on taxes and walking out on a vote that overrode McMaster’s veto of a 15 percent rate cut for SCE&G customers.

Tom Barton: 803-771-8304, @tjbarton83
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