Persistent poverty a key issue in 6th District race

Gregory Brown

Couresty of Gregory Brown

Democrats

Republicans

Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn is one of the most powerful people in Washington, but more people than ever are after his job.

Three Republicans and one Democrat -- all long-shots -- are seeking to replace the senior lawmaker, who played a key role in pushing through President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Clyburn, the House majority whip, said he'll campaign as strong as he did when he won his first race for the 6th Congressional District in 1992. "I don't take anything for granted," he said.

The 6th District, which covers much of eastern South Carolina, takes in parts of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties, as well as Colleton County.

Clyburn's four opponents -- all of whom are from Columbia or the Midlands -- are pinning their chances on campaign-season charges that he has spent too much time concentrating on Washington, D.C., while the mostly rural district remains the poorest in the state.

"We're in a situation that has not changed over the last few decades," said Gregory Brown, Clyburn's challenger in the Democratic primary June 8.

The Republican hopefuls likewise are all trying to win their first elective office. They include: Nancy Harrelson, who challenged Clyburn in 2008; Colleen Payne, a businesswoman; and Jim Pratt, a businessman.

Nationally, House Republican leader John Boehner recently estimated the GOP could pick up 100 or more seats in the November mid-term elections, though Clyburn's has always been considered among the safest Democratic seats in the country. The GOP needs 40 more seats to reclaim control of the House.

Clyburn said accusations that he has not paid attention to the district are unfounded. He said that in his leadership role he has done more for the state as a whole through efforts that have benefitted residents in and out of his district. He named his support for Medical University of South Carolina cancer programs, which are aimed at helping the poor populations of the state, as one. Also, he helped direct $1.6 billion in stimulus money to the Savannah River Site that will help with thousands of jobs there.

"That's the kind of silliness that happens in campaigns," he said of his opponents's claims of absence.

Brown, who is making his first run for office, said Clyburn has had nearly 20 years to improve conditions in the 6th District, where the educational offerings are so poor that a portion has been dubbed the state's "Corridor of Shame."

"The mere fact of the situation that the district is in, in comparison to any other district in the United States, it spells failure to me," Brown said.

Among the Republicans, Harrelson is making her second bid for the 6th District seat. She fared poorly in the head-to-head matchup against Clyburn in the 2008 general election, losing 68 percent to 32 percent. But she isn't fazed. "I never stopped running because I knew I was going to try again," she said.

Harrelson's platform follows the tenets of the GOP, saying she is "for less government, less taxes, less wasteful spending and less bureaucracy."

Payne is a recent transplant to South Carolina, having spent most of the previous 28 years in northern Virginia. Her motivation to run is her four children, and a push to bring back fiscally conservative stances of reduced government, limited government and reduced taxes. But she also points out inequities in the 6th District. "I saw the economic, social and racial divide," she said. "It is a disgrace."

Residents of the mostly black district need many more opportunities than have been offered, she said, saying everything from jobs to education has been neglected.

Pratt already knows a little bit about competition; he played football at the University of Florida in the 1980s. After working on the West Coast, he moved back to the East Coast in 2006, taking a job with an outdoor advertising firm in South Carolina.

Pratt decided to run for office by saying he didn't like the direction in which the country appeared to be headed, based on a speech by Obama that called for fundamentally transforming the nation. "We're marching toward socialism," Pratt said.

Pratt said much of the burden of that change is falling on small business -- a group he said that Democrats had planned to help. "I haven't met a person or a business owner or a professional who agrees with that."