MOUNT PLEASANT -- Eight Republicans running to be the coast's next congressman tried to out-conservative each other Tuesday in a free-wheeling debate that drew widespread agreement on protecting the borders and keeping "don't ask, don't tell" in place.
Most all said they were philosophically closer to Sen. Jim DeMint than to Lindsey Graham, while only a few brief sparks flew, including one exchange between Paul Thurmond and Carroll Campbell.
Thurmond had just finished touting his abilities to work with others as a member of Charleston County Council, when Campbell stepped up to say
Thurmond's efforts don't match what the Washington job is about.
"Paul, with all due respect, I appreciate the work you're doing on County Council, but Congress is not County Council," he said during the debate inside the aircraft carrier Yorktown at Patriots Point.
The jab brought Thurmond to his feet, saying he championed transparency and standards in the county, and was ready to be a fighter in D.C.
Most of the night's answers, however, followed traditional Republican mantras, with a constant stream of calls for returning an arch conservative to Congress who carries a strict budget mind-set.
"We don't need to send diplomats to Washington. We need good common sense," Myrtle Beach businessman and newcomer Clark B. Parker said inside the hangar deck of the World War II-era carrier where more than 300 party faithful had assembled.
Former Charleston school board member Larry Kobrovsky spoke for several of those seated on the stage when he agreed that a balanced budget amendment is a necessity to right America's finances. "Because they won't do it otherwise," he said of a Congress collectively run amok.
Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Ken Glasson said the next congressman has to be someone who won't "succumb to the pressures of the establishment," particularly noting the army of lobbyists that surround the Capitol.
The pack of candidates is running to succeed Republican 1st District Rep. Henry Brown, who is retiring this year. The district extends up the South Carolina coast from Charleston to Myrtle Beach. Not all the Republican candidates were in attendance; the lone woman, Katherine Jenerette of North Myrtle Beach, was absent, citing her Army Reserve training.
Some of the strongest language came during a question about agreeing with Arizona's new immigration law, which requires police making a crime stop to determine whether someone is in the country illegally.
"If you give me a division, we'll close the border tomorrow," said Stovall Witte, an Army veteran, who added one major problem is that the federal government "keeps changing the rules" of how enforcement is done.
"Arizona had to act because our federal government decided not to," added state Rep. Tim Scott of Charleston.
Thurmond called for removing illegal aliens immediately, and for making "English the official American language."
Witte and Scott had one area of difference over earmarks; Scott said he was staunchly against them for deepening the budget mess, which drew a challenge from Witte that it may be the only way to get Interstate 73 built to serve the coast.
Most, however, stuck to the Republicans' 11th Commandment of not speaking ill of other Republicans, though Graham, R-S.C., was a target of some who said he had bent on his ideals and is too eager to compromise.
"Sen. DeMint is doing the Lord's work in our country," said Mount Pleasant businessman Mark Lutz, who is among the newcomers to seek high office in the field.
Lutz also disagreed with how the global war on terror is being fought. "We've got to unleash our intelligence community," he said, and let them work without the fear of retribution. Campbell called himself "the only true conservative businessman in this race."
All were in agreement that global warming was not a legitimate issue, and did not favor opening trade with Cuba. "Everybody is saying the same thing," moderator Andy Savage said at one point early in the night.
The survivor of the June 8 vote and likely runoff between the top two finishers will face the winner of the Democratic nominating primary race between Robert Burton and Ben Frasier.
The debate will air on "The Savage Report" on Comcast Channel 2 at selected times beginning this weekend and continuing throughout the week.
The night also featured a straw poll from Republicans who had paid to take part in the event; results weren't immediately available.