Second District congressional candidate Sean Carrigan needs to walk a fine line in November's U.S. House election.
After winning a competitive primary runoff Tuesday, the Midlands Democrat must appeal both to progressives, who supported his opponent, and what he calls "Carrigan Republicans" to beat incumbent Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, running for his 10th term.
The 2nd District includes Aiken, Barnwell and Lexington counties as well as parts of Orangeburg and Richland counties.
The primary race between Carrigan and Columbia attorney Annabelle Robertson, running on a progressive platform, was contentious even before it went to a runoff.
At one point, a letter from some Robertson supporters circulated accusing “representatives of the Carrigan campaign” of “unprecedented sexist political bullying, including bogus legal threats, bogus ethics complaints, ‘slut shaming,’ attempts to physically intimidate (Robertson), her daughter and her supporters.”
For his part, Carrigan denies any connection to those accusations.
"There was some political back-and-forth, as there always is," Carrigan said. "But I'm ready today to unite.
"I give her full credit, she did run a campaign that was inspiring to many, many people. ... We're both committed to defeating Joe Wilson, and I hope she can play a role in that."
Carrigan and Robertson have not spoken since election night. But Carrigan says he has received positive messages from some Robertson supporters and is open to speaking with her about a role in the November campaign.
Carrigan will need to consolidate support from those voters. Robertson came first in the June 12 primary, winning 42 percent of the vote, or 14,000 votes. She won 47 percent of the vote two weeks later in the runoff, finishing only 700 votes behind Carrigan.
Carrigan says there was a "razor-thin" difference between the two candidates' platforms. Carrigan supports Medicare-for-all health care, medical marijuana, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, the right to choose an abortion and affordable education.
Robertson did not respond to The Buzz when asked if she would be endorsing Carrigan in the general election.
Carrigan, who calls himself a "John Deere Democrat," hopes his military background will help him appeal to independent and moderately Republican voters in November.
The retired first sergeant calls himself "a fiscally responsible 28-year Army veteran who believes in the Second Amendment, who believes in common-sense gun reform but is nowhere close to thinking we’re going to go take anyone’s guns" — a stance he thinks puts him more in tune with the district's voters than previous Democratic candidates.
In a district with a large number of veterans, Carrigan plans to make protecting the Veterans Administration a key plank of his platform.
"Joe Wilson and Donald Trump want to privatize the Veterans Administration," Carrigan said. "That’s a no-win situation for veterans. There’s going to be a ... decrease in services to the veteran. If we want to protect services to the veteran, we’re going to need to fight tooth and nail."
Wilson was a supporter of the VA Mission Act, a bipartisan bill that passed earlier this year to boost service members' ability to access private care through the VA. Wilson's campaign also said he's co-sponsored legislation to prevent suicide among veterans, modernize VA health care records and encourage businesses to hire veterans. Wilson said he also has worked to tackle "deficiencies" at Columbia's Dorn VA Medical Center.
"As a 31-year veteran, father of four sons who have served in the military overseas, son of a veteran and senior member on the House Armed Services Committee, I have worked to provide our veterans with more health care options and fought for increased oversight and more funding for the VA to ensure it is working best for our service members," Wilson said in a statement.
But Carrigan says the VA issue, plus his support for medical marijuana and senior citizen's issues, means that many voters "have more in common with a moderate Democrat than a level-10 Republican," a slap at Wilson, perhaps best known for shouting "you lie" at then-President Barack Obama.
"It’s on those core things that I think there will be an overwhelming majority of Carrigan Republicans because I represent them much closer to their values than Joe Wilson," he said.