MOUNT PLEASANT -- Those running in the 1st Congressional District race to replace retiring Rep. Henry Brown had a chance to introduce themselves to voters Wednesday night, but two of the seven hopefuls took a pass, including the front-runner.

Libertarian candidate Keith Blandford, Democratic candidate Ben Frasier, Working Families candidate Rob Groce, United Citizens candidate Mac McCullough, and Independence candidate Jimmy Wood briefly spoke about themselves and fielded half a dozen questions from a small audience at Wando High School.

The candidates' views often were as diverse as the many parties under which they're running.

The League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area began organizing the forum several weeks ago, but Republican Tim Scott, who is widely regarded as the front-runner, told the group on Sept. 30 he couldn't attend. Green Party candidate Robert Dobbs was expected, but his paper nameplate was folded down shortly after he failed to show.

The candidates began and ended the 90-minute forum by talking about jobs. South Carolina has had one of the nation's highest unemployment rates for many months.

Blandford said the key to restoring the economy is restoring the nation's money. "That is my legislative goal, to return this country to sound money," he said, adding that he favors ending capital gains on gold and silver sales and an audit of the federal reserve.

Frasier said he thinks he's the candidate to turn the country around, and he expressed support for Fair Tax, a plan that would end the nation's income tax in exchange for a national consumption tax. "We cannot tear down the rich to help the poor," he said.

Groce, a former Democrat, said he entered the race because he didn't hear any other candidates talking about the issues he thought were important. He said the key to turning around the economy is providing incentives to develop renewable energy. He also urged South Carolinians to vote no on the second state ballot question Nov. 2, which asks whether voters should have the right to cast a private ballot in union elections.

McCullough said unemployment is high because businesses are scared. "We don't need to create jobs. We need really good leadership," he said, adding that Republicans and Democrats have been in power for 150 years "and we're trillions of dollars in debt."

Wood agreed it is not the job of Congress to create jobs. "It is not the job of the United States congressperson to create jobs," he said. "It is our job to support legislation ... that gets the federal government off of our backs and allows us to be the free people God intended us to be."

Asked whether they favor offshore drilling, Wood, Blandford and Frasier said yes, while McCullough and Groce said no.

McCullough and Frasier said the shipping industry should pay for dredging the state's ports, while Wood, Blandford and Groce indicated they would support a federal earmark for the work.

Groce painted a far rosier outlook for Social Security than the other candidates, and he even favored lowering the age for recipients and raising the taxable income for the program to $174,000, a congressman's salary.

All candidates also expressed varying degrees of support for cutting military spending, except for Frasier. But even the Democrat said the United States should try to get out of Afghanistan "as soon as possible."

All the candidates except for Wood also described themselves as mostly pro-choice, though Blandford said the abortion issued should be decided by the states.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.