Jim DeMint may be a favorite of conservatives and the tea party movement, but this is likely his last run for U.S. Senate. The Greenville Republican says it would take "extraordinary" circumstances for him to go back to Washington beyond two terms.
But there's still enough work to be done in the next six years that he wants to stick around, if only to put the brakes on what he calls a White House and a Congress run amok -- even from among his fellow Republicans.
"I do believe the country is at a crossroads," DeMint said during a break from his duties recently. "Either we're going to a European style of big government or a more socialistic type country, or can turn the country back to those limited government principals of freedom."
By all accounts, DeMint should breeze through the June 8 Republican primary. His lone party opponent is Charleston lawyer Susan Gaddy, a former Democrat who doesn't seem to be gaining much traction. Even the state GOP headquarters is dismissing her candidacy.
"We can't really speak to her motivations, but we are very aware of her history as a Democratic activist," said state party Executive Director Joel Sawyer. "As far as we're concerned, Sen. DeMint is our nominee and we'll be operating accordingly."
Gaddy insists she is no stealth candidate but acknowledges her campaign is financially strapped. DeMint, meanwhile, has more than $3.2 million in the bank and a national conservative following. She has no plans for a campaign website and is running a low-key effort, calling herself "an evangelical Christian lawyer who takes my inspiration from Sarah Palin."
On the Democratic side, two candidates are running in their party's primary: Charleston County Councilman Vic Rawl, and Alvin Greene of Clarendon County, who is making his first run for political office.
Greene said his motivation is his status as an out-of-work military veteran.
"There are more people unemployed than at any other time in the state of South Carolina's history," Greene said.
Rawl is well-known around Charleston. He served about six years as a state legislator before an 11-year career as a circuit judge. While he still must get past Greene in the primary, his eyes are on a potential showdown in November with DeMint, someone he says is preoccupied with aligning himself with national conservatives instead of concentrating on South Carolina matters at home.
DeMint took office in 2004, leaping to the Senate after six years in the House. In D.C., he picked up a reputation of swimming against the tide, angering both sides at times by taking on his colleagues' penchant for earmarks, calling them part of the "favor factory." He also made national headlines when he said President Barack Obama's health care initiative would be the chief executive's "Waterloo," a prediction that fell short for the GOP.
Setting precedents with bailouts, the health care reform package and the cash-for-clunkers program have turned Washington into an unstable ATM, DeMint said. "The easiest thing to do in Congress is to say 'yes,' " he said, adding that saying "no" takes more effort.
Gaddy, who moved from Greenville to Charleston four years ago, has voted in more Democratic than Republican primaries, but said she is disappointed by Obama's performance, even after she supported him in 2008. But she said she has split from that, and supports the 20 states that have challenged the constitutionality of the recently passed federal health care package. She recently spent time in Arizona, following that state's illegal immigration crackdown. She supports as constitutional that state's new law requiring police to determine whether people are in the country illegally.
Greene said he would support just about any effort that will bring more jobs and help the ranks of the unemployed. Green jobs, cheaper gas, more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico -- he supports any and all job creators, he said, though he was short on specifics.
Rawl's campaign is much more polished, with daily updates and Twitter postings about his stump speeches around the state, and his goal to take on DeMint in November. "I am tired of gridlock and (saying) 'no,' " Rawl said, referring to DeMint.
Rawl supports Obama's health care overhaul as a starting point for America's future direction in health care, along with more regulation on banks and Wall Street to prevent a repeat of the economic meltdown.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5551.