Un­der­dog Demo­crat James Smith takes RV to SC vot­ers in push to ‘leave no one be­hind’

The State (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MAAYAN SCHECHTER mschechter@thes­

James Smith barely had stepped off the nar­row stair­case of a friend’s RV out­side of S.C. State Univer­sity on Tues­day when he was con­fronted by a veteran, who, at first, ap­peared ag­i­tated by the Demo­crat’s ap­pear­ance in Orangeburg.

Vet­er­ans are be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against and are not be­ing treated as a pri­or­ity, the older man told Smith, 51.

“I know you are a veteran too,” the man said, shak­ing Smith’s hand, while ex­press­ing sup­port for the Afghan war veteran’s cam­paign.

It is that mo­ment, that split-sec­ond con­ver­sa­tion, re­peated hun­dreds of times over the past year, that Smith sees as an in­di­ca­tion his cam­paign strat­egy is work­ing — a grass­roots, door-knock­ing ap­proach that Smith hopes will put a Demo­crat in the Gover­nor’s Man­sion.

If Columbia’s Smith is elected on Tues­day, beat­ing in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Gov. Henry Mcmaster, it will be a stun­ning up­set, ob­servers say. Polls have Smith far be­hind Mcmaster in a state that has not elected a Demo­cratic gover­nor in 20 years.

But Smith and his lieu­tenant gover­nor-run­ning mate, state Rep. Mandy

Pow­ers Nor­rell of Lan­caster, hit the road on Tues­day in a sup­porter’s RV, plas­tered with stick­ers of their faces and the cam­paign’s slo­gan — “Leave no one be­hind.”


Hud­dled over Nor­rell’s jour­nal, with scrib­bled talk­ing points, the pair have stopped in Orangeburg, Man­ning, Dar­ling­ton, Florence, Ch­ester, Fair­field, Greenville and Charles­ton over the last week, among oth­ers, try­ing to ex­cite the Demo­cratic base and win over any un­de­cided vot­ers.

The trek is ex­haust­ing. But the two have be­come ac­cus­tomed to the life­style, stop­ping in three to five coun­ties each day, Nor­rell said.

In Orangeburg, at the state’s only pub­licly funded his­tor­i­cally black col­lege, Smith ex­pressed sup­port for a Demo­cratic plan to freeze col­lege tu­ition rates.

In Man­ning and in Florence, he told the crowd that, on Day 1 in of­fice, he will ex­pand the joint fed­eral-state Med­ic­aid in­surance pro­gram, an ex­pan­sion that has been re­jected by South Carolina’s Repub­li­can gov­er­nors and Gop-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture for years.

Smith also jabbed Mcmaster over his veto of 2017’s bi-par­ti­san roads bill, which in­creased the state’s gas tax to help pay the cost of fix­ing the state’s crum­bling roads and bridges, and called for strength­en­ing the state’s K-12 pub­lic schools.

Smith likens him­self as the state’s next “ed­u­ca­tion gover­nor” — a ref­er­ence to past Demo­cratic gov­er­nors, Dick Ri­ley and Jim Hodges — and has called for rais­ing the pay of S.C. teacher above the South­east­ern av­er­age.

South Carolini­ans, Smith said, “are ready for new lead­er­ship and change.”

“This isn’t about me be­ing gover­nor. It’s not about Mandy be­ing lieu­tenant gover­nor,” Smith said in Orangeburg on Tues­day.

Rather, he said, it is about en­sur­ing ev­ery S.C. res­i­dent has a seat at the ta­ble.

Smith’s sup­port­ers say that if any per­son is able to bring that ta­ble to­gether, it is the Columbia Demo­crat.

“I’m tired of a gover­nor who tells us that tax cuts for his wealthy friends are some­how go­ing to trickle down to us ... while we’ve watched our roads crum­ble and our schools crum­ble,” Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela said at an oys­ter roast. “I’m tired, and I’m ready for some change.”

For­mer state Sen. John Land, D-claren­don, said Smith’s mes­sage alone is enough rea­son to vote for him.

“I have known James Smith since the late ‘90s, and I have watched his ca­reer and watched the fact that he’s al­ways made the right de­ci­sions and he’s al­ways been a leader,” Land said out­side of his Man­ning law of­fice. “He was al­ways look­ing for­ward. Never back­ward.”


But Smith’s first stop Tues­day — in Orangeburg — also high­lighted one of the ob­sta­cles that he has faced in his can­di­dacy — name recog­ni­tion.

While Smith has been in the S.C. House for 22 years, rep­re­sent­ing part of Columbia, he still is lit­tle known to many South Carolini­ans.

“I didn’t know who they were,” S.C. State Univer­sity stu­dent La’quonda Jef­fery, 20, of Dar­ling­ton, told The State on Tues­day, re­fer­ring to Smith and Nor­rell.

The two Democrats ap­peared at a near-empty au­di­to­rium at S.C. State at mid­day Tues­day.

For­mer state Rep. Bakari Sell­ers, D-bam­berg, thank­ing the stu­dents who did show, at­trib­uted the sparse re­cep­tion to con­flict­ing class and study­ing sched­ules.

But Jef­fery wasn’t buy­ing that.

“We feel like if we do vote or if we do ac­tu­ally take a stand ... when you get into the of­fice, all the things that you talked about, we don’t see it,” she said. “Don’t just come at us when it’s some­thing ben­e­fi­cial to you or it’s go­ing to look good on your part. We see you only around this time.”

To win, Smith must have a mas­sive turnout among black vot­ers, who make up al­most 60 per­cent of S.C. Democrats. He also needs to at­tract in­de­pen­dents and mod­er­ate Re­pub­li­cans, those un­happy with Mcmaster’s friend­ship with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Smith has the back­ing of the state’s most pow­er­ful black law­maker, U.S. Rep. Jim Cly­burn of Columbia, one of the coun­try’s most in­flu­en­tial Democrats and the third-rank­ing Demo­crat in the U.S. House.

Cly­burn backed Smith early in his can­di­dacy and, since, has re­mained in Smith’s cor­ner, de­ploy­ing strate­gies for Smith that, he says, helped Demo­crat Doug Jones win a spe­cial elec­tion to the U.S. Se­nate in the red state of Alabama.

Smith also has stumped with Sell­ers, who ran, un­suc­cess­fully, for lieu­tenant gover­nor against Mcmaster in 2014 and now is a reg­u­lar CNN con­trib­u­tor.

“I don’t take this (race) lightly,” Sell­ers told stu­dents Tues­day in Orangeburg. “In fact, I want Mandy and James to know from the bot­tom of my heart how much I thank them for this sac­ri­fice of sim­ply run­ning for of­fice be­cause peo­ple don’t un­der­stand the dif­fi­culty in do­ing so.”

But is that sup­port enough to win un­de­cided vot­ers, like Jef­fery, over next Tues­day?

“No,” she said.

By 2 p.m., Smith and Nor­rell were back on the road, this time for Man­ning, where the re­cep­tion was warmer.

“He knows what’s good for South Carolina,” for­mer Sen. Land said of Smith. “He knows what will change South Carolina.”

After­ward, Smith and Nor­rell were on to Florence.

GAVIN MCINTYRE gm­cin­tyre@thes­

State Rep. James Smith, Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for S.C. gover­nor and Smith’s lieu­tenant gover­nor pick, state Rep. Mandy Pow­ers Nor­rell of Lan­caster, talk to Muhsin Love, left, and Derek Owens II at South Carolina State Univer­sity.

GAVIN MCINTYRE gm­cin­tyre@thes­

State Rep. James Smith, Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for gover­nor, and lieu­tenant gover­nor pick, state Rep. Mandy Pow­ers Nor­rell of Lan­caster, share a laugh while on RV tour.

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