COLUMBIA -- Robert Ford sweeps a white handkerchief across his forehead and jokes that the other candidates for governor have people on staff to wipe sweat from their brows.

He pulls a stack of manila envelopes from a black suitcase he keeps in the backseat of his Buick and drags a chair to the entrance of the room where he'll speak to about two dozen Democrats on this night.

What he lacks in campaign cash he hopes to make up in legwork to become the state's first black governor. He has pennies on the dollar compared to the election's big spenders, so he can't afford to buy much ad space or airtime.

He says he's not worried. "Money can't buy an election."

Ford, a veteran of the state Senate and a fixture in the Lowcountry political scene, already has worked the room by the time he's called to the front to speak to the Richland County Democratic Women.

Many of the people are leafing through the contents of the manila envelopes Ford handed them at the door. Inside they find glossy, colorful handouts that describe Ford's platform.

The pages detail his "Video Poker Stimulus Package," which Ford says will bring in $1 billion in new taxes each year, create 40,000 jobs and spur 3,000 businesses.

He would put $300 million toward education, including $150 million for public schools, $50 million for faith-based schools, $50 million for tax credits for low- and middle-income households and $50 million for colleges and universities.

Under the plan, $100 million also would go to state employees for raises. He would send $250 million to local and county governments, put $70 million into infrastructure, give $70 million to health care and stash $10 million in savings.

Ford tries to sell his plan. He leans against the furniture halfway through.

He's entirely unscripted.

Some of the women shake their heads in disapproval. Some nod along. Most laugh at one point or another. Two roll their eyes before he's done talking.

Brian Shealy of Blythewood, one of the two husbands in the room, says he likes the idea of pulling in new tax dollars from video poker machines. Shealy's wife likes Ford more than she expected, but she's worried his proposed tax credits are too close to vouchers that could end up stripping money from public schools. No candidate has won the couple's votes just yet.

Ford talks over his time limit to hit all of the high points of his campaign: He wants to bolster civic education, put money into after-school tutoring and build on South Carolina's movie industry. Even more controversial than his gambling plan is his idea for school choice. Ford says his desire to pump money into private schools won't take cash from public ones, but many Democrats are skeptical.

The hostess prompts Ford to give a "final, final, final, final, final, final statement."

"I like all the candidates in the race," Ford says. "And of all of them would be nice, traditional South Carolina governors. All of them. But you don't need that. You need somebody who has the interest of people and can move the state forward. You can't do that without revenue.

"We need revenue to make people's lives better. With all due respect to the other candidates, the Democrats and the Republicans, they don't have a revenue plan."

Bringing back video poker, which was outlawed a decade ago, will be a challenge. Ford says he knows what the fight involves, and adds that he was in the Senate when the Legislature overcame similar arguments to pass the South Carolina Education Lottery.

Ford says he also would like someone to have the right to open a casino in Myrtle Beach.

He lists his successes in the Legislature, including how he helped foster a deal to bring down the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome and how he played a significant role in seating more women and minority judges.

Ford can lean on his relationships in the Legislature, but he's been a controversial figure over the years. He even goes so far as to call some leaders in the state Democratic Party "bigots" for not supporting his campaign.

He's been in tough races before and came close to losing his Senate seat, but in each election since 1993 -- or 1975, when he first was elected to Charleston City Council -- he's come out on top.

Once again, the voters will decide.

"Some people elected to government don't care about everyday, common working people," he says. "No matter how many poor people there are in their district all they're concerned with is the privileged six percent. The other 94 percent don't have nobody to represent them in government."