2 Democrats set sights on taking senator's spot

Michael Cone

If Buddy Witherspoon is considered a long shot in his primary bid to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham, then the two Democratic challengers can be considered really, really long shots.

But Mount Pleasant lawyer Michael Cone and North Myrtle Beach engineer, pilot and flight trainer Bob Conley also will square off June 10 to see who will be on the ballot this fall.

They have little money and name recognition. Former South Carolina Party Chairman Joe Erwin said he doesn't know them. Last year, Erwin shed some light into why Democratic heavyweights shied away from the race when he said, "We already have our best Democrat up there in Lindsey."

Erwin said last week that he took heat for the remark. "I'd say that was a flip comment that looking back, you know, is probably not appropriate," Erwin said,

adding, "I respect Lindsey Graham. I think he's worked very hard. ... I guess don't have heartburn about his work in the Senate, but I don't agree with many of his positions."

Rob Godfrey, communications director for the state Republican Party, had his own flip remark about the Democratic field: "South Carolina Democrats had to look so far down the bench to find anyone willing to suit up for this race that the trainers were taping their own ankles."

Together, Cone and Conley have raised only about $22,000 —10 times less than what Witherspoon has given his own campaign and not much more than their filing fees, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission figures.

They have Web sites and have made appearances around the state at Democratic county meetings, including brief speeches at Saturday's state convention in Columbia.

The Democratic contenders do have different backgrounds and positions on the issues. Cone, a trial lawyer and Navy veteran, said he is inspired by his grandfather, the late state Sen. O.T. Wallace, particularly with his role in removing the toll from the original Cooper River bridge. "The Cooper River was a huge gap between Mount Pleasant and Charleston. My grandfather helped make Mount Pleasant more accessible."

Cone said that if elected, he would work on jobs, health care and national security issues. He would work to change tax policy to discourage companies from taking jobs overseas. He also favors a single-payer health care system, adding, "I do not see a place for private insurers in the health care market."

He said he also favors getting U.S. troops out of Iraq because of the strain it's placing on the military. "Senators Graham and (John) McCain and President Bush did such a poor job thinking this through, they have emboldened those who would do us harm."

As far as illegal immigration goes, Cone said, "Building a fence is not going to stop them. What's going to stop them is if they have no job to look forward to."

Conley said he believes "in the great Jeffersonian principle of government of and by the people, not of and by the corporations."

"I've got a lean campaign. I spend a lot of time on the phone and on the road," he said.

He said Iraq, the economy and immigration reform are the defining issues of today and said the troops should be home by now and receiving better treatment.

He also said China was a major concern, partly because of problems with imported toys, food and medicine from there. "All U.S. trade dollars are paying for the buildup of their industry while sending good, better paying jobs to communist China," he said.

Both Conley and Cone said they know little about each other, and they're much more likely to take aim at Graham while on the campaign trail. "I'm out to take Lindsey Graham out in the fall," Conley said. "I think Michael and I have the same target here."

The Candidates

MICHAEL CONE

WEB: mjcone.com

RAISED: $11,429

SPENT: $11,319

CASH ON HAND: $109

DEBT: $9,500

BOB CONLEY

WEB: bobconleyforsenate.com

RAISED: $10,200

SPENT: $10,158

CASH ON HAND: $42

DEBT: $2,400