Smith-James 08

Rep. James Smith 

COLUMBIA — The 2018 South Carolina governor’s race finally has a Democrat.

With four Republicans already running, state Rep. James Smith formally announced his candidacy Thursday, weeks after launching a website and opening a campaign spending account.

Smith, 50, is touting his military experience as a major in the S.C. National Guard, including a year-long combat deployment to Afghanistan.

Smith is an ally of former Vice President Joe Biden, who has encouraged the Columbia attorney to run in the GOP-dominated state.

"All of my life I have felt the call to service. It was in that spirit, after 9/11, I resigned my commission as a (Judge Advocate General) officer, enlisted in the infantry and deployed to Afghanistan to fight for our country and protect our way of life," Smith said in a statement. "I came home a different man and believed I could do more."

Smith was a favorite to run in 2010 before state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Camden attorney, hopped into the race that he lost to Republican Nikki Haley.

Unlike Sheheen, Smith could face a challenger in the Democratic primary in June. A pair of veteran S.C. senators — Gerald Malloy, a Hartsville attorney, and John Scott, a Columbia businessman — say they are weighing bids.

Smith has been one of the more visible Statehouse Democrats during his two decades in the General Assembly, taking the lead on the House floor and holding news conferences on issues important to the party.

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Democrats are expected to have a tough road to win back the Governor’s Mansion, held by Republicans for the past 14 years.

South Carolina remains one of the nation’s strongest-leaning Republican states in Gallup polls and went heavily for then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump in the 2016 election, though some critics think the president’s performance in the White House could open a door for Democrats.

The four Republicans in the 2018 race are: Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, an Anderson pharmacist; former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, a Kingstree real estate broker who switched parties; Gov. Henry McMaster, a Columbia attorney who took office in January and is a major Trump backer; and two-time state agency head Catherine Templeton, a Mount Pleasant attorney.

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Columbia Bureau Chief

Shain is Columbia Bureau Chief for The Post and Courier. He was editor of Free Times and was a reporter and editor at The State, The Charlotte Observer and The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News.