Help sought in finding armed-robbery suspect

James Rickie Cobb Jr.

Tonight marks the start of the busiest political weekend of the year in South Carolina, with speeches from congressional leaders and a former star strategist at major fundraising dinners, a state party convention and a debate between gubernatorial hopefuls.

It's a chance for Republicans and Democrats to rally their troops and build momentum heading toward the primaries June 8.

"This is the weekend where we typically kick off the election year," said state Democratic

Chairwoman Carol Fowler, whose party is holding the majority of the events. "While many of the candidates have been out there for several months, this is the emotional kick-off for everybody's Democratic campaign."

While Fowler said she's confident that this is the year Republicans will lose their hold on the governor's job, state GOP spokesman Joel Sawyer predicted that her optimism will be short-lived.

"The choices couldn't be more clear in this election," he said. "The Democrats at the state and national level have stood for more government, more debt and more taxes. We're looking to expand our majority this year."

The events, all of them in Columbia, kick off tonight with U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland speaking to Democrats at their Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner. Hoyer is the No. 2 Democrat in the House, ranking just behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi and before Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, who also will attend.

After the fundraising dinner, Clyburn will host his 18th annual fish fry to show appreciation for Democratic volunteers who might not be able to afford the pricier fundraiser. That event starts at 7:30 p.m. in the city parking garage at 1411 Gervais St.

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On Saturday, the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates will debate from 3 to 4 p.m. The event will be streamed online at beginning at 8 that night.

The party's state convention also is scheduled for Saturday morning.

The Republicans, who hold their conventions every other year, do not have one this year. But they will gather for their annual Silver Elephant fundraising event Saturday and hear from former GOP strategist Karl Rove.

The parties' primary elections are June 8. Voters are allowed to vote in only one of the primaries and must be registered with their county election commission by May 8. For more information, visit