Jim Clyburn's Democrat primary challenger is more Republican than Democrat

The Dorchester County retiree challenging 11-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn in the Democratic primary has a history of voting Republican and describes herself as a "tea partier."

But Karen Smith said no one put her up to running and that her main beef is Washington politicians who don't listen to folks back home.

"My issue is: the only voice the American people have is when they go to the ballot box and cast their ballot," she said during a phone interview. "And then it ends."

Smith, who lives in the tiny Dorchester community, has never run for office before. She's a housewife, formerly owned a convenience store and dabbles with a "hobby" farm raising goats.

The Dorchester County Democratic Party had no inkling of who she was before she filed last week, or why she is challenging the Democrats' most visible leader.

"Makes you wonder how she got that filing fee," said Ethel D. Campbell, the Dorchester County Democratic Party chairwoman. The fee is $3,480.

"I borrowed it from my husband," Smith told The Post and Courier.

Smith said Tuesday she filed as a Democrat because it was the best platform to take on Clyburn directly. She said she has written to him and telephoned his office with her concerns about the country but did not receive a suitable response.

One of her issues is the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. "I'm against them passing something they haven't read," she said.

Smith added that the Republican side of the ballot was also too crowded. Two Republicans have filed to challenge Clyburn in the fall: Anthony Culler of Kingstree and Leon Winn of Sumter. Both are considered long shots in the overwhelmingly Democrat 6th District. Libertarian Kevin Umbaugh of Sumter is also in the mix.

Smith added she hopes to win on a "shoestring" budget. Her tea party credentials are backed up by the Gadsden flag - the yellow, coiled-snake banner that declares "Don't Tread on Me" - that she has affixed to her door window.

Smith's voting history has been pure Republican, records indicate. She took part in the 2012 GOP state primary, the 2012 GOP presidential primary, the 2010 GOP statewide primary and the 2008 GOP presidential run.

When asked about his challenger, Clyburn defended his performance. "I, and my staff, make it a practice to politely accept complaints, and it is my office policy to respond swiftly to requests," he said in an emailed statement.

"The 6th Congressional District belongs to the people of South Carolina and I feel confident that I will be satisfied with the verdict the voters render on June 10th," he added.

Smith said Clyburn isn't the only South Carolina politician she's had difficulty making contact with.

"I have the same problem with (GOP Sen.) Lindsey Graham," she said, adding she's written to him too. "You get a generic letter back."

She couldn't recall all of the topics she's raised with South Carolina lawmakers.

"Oh gosh, you want me to strain my memory," she said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551

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