Marguerite S. Willis

Marguerite Willis

COLUMBIA — Marguerite Willis, an antitrust attorney from Florence, joined the Democratic governor's race Wednesday.

This is Willis' first run for office, though her husband, Frank, was mayor of Florence for 14 years and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2006.

The 67-year-old Greenville native will face State Rep. James Smith, who has the backing from many establishment Democrats including former Vice President Joe Biden, and Charleston businessman Phil Noble in the June 12 primary.

Willis said she is not a career politician like Smith, who has served in the Statehouse for two decades, and can offer better solutions than Noble.

She said she would bring her work ethic and critical thinking developed as an attorney at Nexsen Pruet to the Governor's Mansion. Her motto is: "If it's easy, you don't need me."

"I am a proactive problem solver," Willis said. "I'm not a politician. I've just got a different perspective. We have to deal with wolves at the door."

The "wolves" include improving education, which requires increasing teacher pay, and protecting healthcare, which could be hurt with plans in Washington to cut entitlement programs, she said.

Willis also backs extending the school day to help working families, allowing medical marijuana and revitalizing rural areas with unique economic development opportunities, including casinos.

Willis, a party activist who was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2016, said the timing is right for her with the growing public outcry over sexual harassment and equal pay for women. 

Outmaneuvering Smith will be tough since he has an established history on backing women's issues, said Tyler Jones, a Democratic strategist in Charleston.

"Until she can demonstrate that she can raise money like James and find issues that she's better suited to deal with than James, he continues to be the frontrunner," Jones said. "I have seen nothing from her that suggests she has a leg up on James."

Smith has raised nearly $550,000 so far. To help raise money for her campaign, Willis said she has contacts through the state from working in offices in Columbia and Greenville. She also plans to do some self-funding.

On Tuesday, Willis said she attended a friend's funeral where the homily's theme was about how people invest their time.

"I want to invest my time in this," she said. "I want to help this state."

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Columbia Bureau Chief

Andy Shain runs The Post and Courier's team based in South Carolina's capital city. He was editor of Free Times and has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Charlotte, Columbia and Myrtle Beach.

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