Nash, 15 other Republicans compete for attention
If former Dorchester County Sheriff Ray Nash is going to become a U.S. Congressman, he will have to beat out 15 other Republicans to do it – and then defeat a Democrat in the general election.
Nash's challenge in a 16-candidate primary was on display Saturday afternoon, as First Congressional District Republican hopefuls attempted to separate themselves from a crowded field.
The event at the Embassy Suites Hotel Convention Center in North Charleston was a forum hosted by FreedomWorks and The South Carolina Grassroots Community. The candidates are vying to become their party's nominee in the special election to fill U.S. Sen. Tim Scott's vacant seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Less government, lower taxes and more freedom were recurring themes as candidates were given 60 seconds to answer questions in front of several hundred attendees, many of whom came to support their chosen candidate.
For undecided voters, picking the right person may have been a challenge.
“We have 16 candidates up here and most are saying the same thing,” Goose Creek candidate Jeff King observed near the end of the two-hour event.
For his part, King – a systems engineer in the defense industry – promised to stand up for working families if elected. “I feel the working class family man has lost his voice,” he said. “I'm running to reach out to those young, hard working families.”
Nash used his time at the microphone to speak often of the U.S. Constitution.
“As a Sheriff, we applied the Constitution every day,” he said. “Most of the problems we have are because we aren't following the rulebook anymore.”
Nash cited over three decades of law enforcement experience. He spent the last three years as Criminal Justice Advisor for the U.S Embassy in Afghanistan.
Nash drew on his experience when questioned about the defense budget. “I can tell you from personal experience, the defense budget is being misspent on a grand scale,” he said.
Bonneau State Sen. Larry Grooms asked Saturday's audience to “help me save this nation … we have to have fighters who are willing to stand up and not cave to the leadership. If we don't stand up we won't have anything left.”
When asked what federal departments he would be in favor of eliminating, Grooms named the Department of Energy, Department of Education and Department of Agriculture.
Ric Bryant of Hanahan, a Reliability and Process Improvement Engineer, took a less strident approach than many of his counterparts when he said it is time to “get politics and partisanship out of the way, and get things done.”
Bryant called himself a problem solver. “I'll bet some of the Democrats are a little frustrated, too” about the nation's condition, he said.
Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who held the District One seat in the U.S. House from 1995 to 2001, cited his conservative credentials.
“I have little interest in streamlining government,” Sanford said as he quoted conservative icon Barry Goldwater. “My aim is not to pass laws but repeal them.”
In response to a question about inflation, Sanford was blunt: “There is not an appropriate level of inflation other than zero. Inflation is a tax on the middle class.”
Teddy Turner of Charleston, the son of CNN founder Ted Turner, called the national debt the country's most pressing problem. “Our founding fathers were the largest advocates in the history of the world of limited government,” he said.
Turner is a businessman and teaches economics at Charleston Collegiate School on Johns Island.
A number of candidates had words of praise for the man they want to replace, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.
Tim Larkin, who grew up in Berkeley County and is a U.S. Army National Guard veteran of Afghanistan and Kosovo, cited Scott's constituent service as one of the reasons he decided to run for the seat.
“We're going to have to raise revenue and lower spending,” said Larkin, who said he favors the Fair Tax.
Forum rules limited interaction between candidates, but in his closing statement Larkin seemingly took a shot at the scandal that engulfed Sanford's second term as governor when he said: “I'm not the guy who will tell you I'm in one place when I'm in another.”
Curtis Bostic, a small business owner and veteran of Desert Storm who served on Charleston County Council alongside Scott, said the U.S. is currently “doing things our founding fathers never intended.”
Bostic said all levels of government have grown too much in recent years. “We need something different,” he said.
Keith Blandford of Sullivan's Island, who previously ran for the First District seat as a Libertarian and is seeking a dual, Libertarian-Republican nomination, said he is an “unashamed” follower of GOP Presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Blandford said it's time for the U.S. to “turn off the printing press” that makes new money.
“Washington is a mess,” State Rep. Peter McCoy, a small businessman who represents James Island and Folly Beach in the Statehouse, said. “We have out of control spending and debt. As your Congressman, I'll work to reduce wasteful spending.”
McCoy said he is concerned about the crippling debt America is leaving to its young people.
Elizabeth Moffly – the lone female Republican candidate and a member of the Charleston County School Board – said she has been fighting for states' rights for years: “Large, centralized government bureaucracies are eroding our freedoms.”
No candidate brought a more unique resume to Saturday's forum than Andy Patrick of Beaufort, who is a former special agent for the U.S. Secret Service.
Patrick outlined a five-point pledge that included a national Fair Tax, balanced budget amendment, and school choice.
Jonathan Hoffman, a Charleston entrepreneur and former JAG officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, told the audience that he has the experience to be an effective Congressman. “I'm optimistic,” he said. “Do we continue going the way we are and end up like Greece, or do we change things?”
With such a large number of candidates, only two candidates at a time were given the same question, before the next question was asked.
Former State Sen. John Kuhn brought a moment of levity to the event when he suggested that the moderators announce in advance which two candidates would be receiving the question, so that those candidates not being called on would not have to formulate a response. The moderators declined Kuhn's request as the audience laughed.
Kuhn described himself as a strong fiscal conservative. “I'm going to join the fight, not the club,” he said. “It's very difficult to stop spending … if you want to vote for the one who has actually done it already, you're looking at him.”
Shawn Pinkston of Daniel Island, an attorney and former JAG officer in the U.S. Army, vowed to “restore the American Dream for future generations.”
When asked to name a current House of Representatives member he admires, Pinkston praised South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson “for calling the President a liar on the House floor.”
State Rep. Chip Limehouse of Charleston also served red meat to the partisan crowd, calling President Obama “the first welfare President. This President has taken us form workfare to welfare.”
Limehouse called job creation crucial for the state and nation. “I am a small businessman,” he said. “I know how to create jobs and I've done it.”
The primary election is set for March 19; a runoff election, if needed, will be held on April 2. The general election is May 7.
The South Carolina Grassroots Community is made up of a number of area Tea Party groups, including Lowcountry Conservatives in Action in Dorchester County, and the Summerville 9-12 Project.
FreedomWorks aired a live feed of the forum online at live.freedomworks.org.