PAWLEYS ISLAND -- Eight of the nine Republicans running for the 1st Congressional District agreed Monday that federal spending is out of control, but they offered few specifics about what spending they would cut.
The ninth candidate, GOP activist Katherine Jenerette of North Myrtle Beach, was unable to attend because her U.S. Army Reserve role required her to be in Fort Bragg, N.C.
The 90-minute-long face-off of GOP contenders played out before about 100 people who filled half the seats inside an old theater at the Litchfield Beach and Resort.
Each candidate was given 10 minutes to talk about himself and discuss four questions concerning the top issue in the district (besides jobs), the federal government's role in K-12 education, and how each would address illegal immigration and achieve energy independence.
All eight agreed the federal government's role in K-12 education should end, and that was about as specific as many got concerning spending they would cut.
Most candidates also talked favorably about drilling offshore and building more nuclear power plants.
Mount Pleasant businessman Mark Lutz said the tea party movement has restored his hopes, which sank after the 2008 elections.
Lutz said the biggest issue is "encroachment of the federal government, subsidies, mandates by the federal government." He noted the nation soon could lose its AAA bond status. "That has become a national security issue," he said.
State Rep. Tim Scott of North Charleston said he thinks the health care bill that Obama recently signed is unconstitutional. "I think it's pretty clear what the citizens want. They do not want Obamacare, no question," he said.
Scott said he also favored stricter border security, adding, "If we can send a man to the moon, we can build a fence."
Charleston businessman Carroll Campbell said he thinks the country is on the path to socialism.
"I am sick and tired of the established mind-set of entitlements and bailouts," he said. "If I make a bad business decision, I pay the consequences, not you, the taxpayers."
Campbell said the 1st District's biggest issue is infrastructure, particularly finishing roads, such as Interstate 73, and dredging the ports of Georgetown and Charleston.
Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond called all of his opponents "good guys," and said he agreed with much of what they had said.
He said he would push for a veterans hospital in Horry County and for infrastructure, including I-73 and improvements to Interstate 26.
"We also need to work on the electrical grid ... to make sure we can handle the flow of the next generation," he said. "We're going to have some tough decisions to make and I've been making them at the local level. ... I will not ask people to do what I was not willing to do."
Stovall Witte, former chief of staff to retiring U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, said he would emphasize national security, economic security and constitutional security.
He said he supports what the state of Arizona is doing to expand law enforcement's ability to question illegal immigrants. "Obviously, Barack Obama does not agree with me," he said.
Witte said he isn't a professional politician, adding, "I'm not using a family name as a stepping stone to go to Washington," an apparent dig at Campbell and Thurmond, whose fathers were former governors and, in Thurmond's case, a long-serving U.S. senator.
Horry County accountant Clark Parker described his mother's miracle recovery in a hospital when he was only 8 years old, and he acknowledged he has little political experience.
"I'm not as polished as some of these guys. I haven't been doing it very long," he said.
He also said he wants to achieve energy independence not only by drilling but also by building more refineries and modernizing coal plants.
He joked that his wife tried but was unable to print out the federal government's 3,020-page budget. "No wonder why they can't balance it," he said. "They can't pick it up."
Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Ken Glasson noted he was the only combat veteran in the race and he briefly listed his lingering injuries. He likened the country to a ship that's gone off course and begun taking on water.
"That ship has to be steered back," he said. "It's certainly not going to be done by a Democrat."
He said he would oppose earmarks and other wasteful spending.
Former Charleston County School Board member Larry Kobrovsky took a different tact, discussing in depth the U.S. Constitution and several of its amendments.
Kobrovsky, who has mailed copies of the Constitution to many voters, also noted his fight against racial quotas within the Charleston County School District.
He said Obama has "contempt" for the Constitution, adding, "I think he sees himself as a citizen of the world first. He doesn't believe in American exceptionalism."
Republicans in the district, which includes parts of Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry counties, will choose June 8. The race is expected to narrow to two for a June 22 runoff. The ultimate victor will face the winner of the June 8 Democratic primary between commercial pilot Robert Burton of Mount Pleasant and perennial candidate Ben Frasier.
Lowcountry Republicans have set up a similar 1st Congressional District forum on May 18.