Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Five South Carolinians seeking the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate clearly have one thing in common: They don’t approve of the Republican incumbent, Lindsey Graham.
Those candidates – Det Bowers, Richard Cash, Bill Conner, Benjamin Dunn and Nancy Mace – spent more than two hours in a debate sponsored by the Aiken Republican Club on April 16.
The media maintains that Graham will win in a landslide, but he actually is fighting for his political life, said Mace, a small-business owner.
“We know the truth,” she said. “He can’t even muster the support of 50 percent of the people in his own party. (Graham) has voted to increase taxes by $600 billion and has been there for anybody with his hand out in regard to foreign aid,” rather than his own nation.
Conner is an attorney and Army veteran, as is Dunn, a late entry in the contest. Cash is the founder and owner of two small businesses, while Bowers, a late entry to the primary, is a Columbia pastor. Graham did not attend the event, and a seventh candidate, S.C. Sen. Lee Bright, canceled his appearance after the Senate was called into session.
The event attracted about 250 people to the URS Center for the Performing Arts. Panelists providing questions were Aiken City Councilman Dick Dewar, USC Aiken political science professor Dr. Bob Botsch and broadcast journalist Lauren Walsh.
Dewar was impressed with the candidates – especially with Bowers’ passion for politics.
“They all share conservative values,” Dewar said. “All of us believe that Graham does not.”
The event didn’t turn into a formal debate. On all the issues, none of the primary hopefuls ventured far from any of the others. They tackled a wide range of topics – Obamacare, foreign policy, gun laws, climate change, Constitutional conventions, concern about the Savannah River Site’s future, the role of the federal government, immigration and others.
The Department of Education and the Department of Energy should be eliminated, Cash said.
The principles of Christianity are threatened in a country that is moving toward socialism and secularism, he said.
“I believe this country is going in the wrong direction in its core beliefs,” he said. “It’s not just the Democrats, but also some Republicans who act like Democrats. Graham has grown out of touch with South Carolina. He should be replaced, and we all agree that he must be replaced.”
The candidates generally agreed on the need of the U.S. to secure its borders. Dunn added that once that effort is completed, there can be a pathway for an illegal immigrant, but one with caveats. An immigrant would have to get a formal review, pay a fine and any back taxes for the possibility of citizenship.
“English must be his primary language. He must go to work and doesn’t get to vote,” Dunn said. “His children don’t get Pell Grants. He goes to the back of the line and has to pay the penalty.”
The federal government should have no role in education, Conner said.
“Common Core is a travesty, and look what it’s doing to our children,” he said. “It’s cutting off the head of education in state and local government.”
Bowers agreed, citing the federal government’s overreach at the expense of families and children.
“They’re trying to dictate our children’s education,” he said.
Again, the candidates concurred on issues such as the growing need for a stronger, larger military. Mace emphasized the efforts of President Ronald Reagan “who always said that for peace, we must have a strong defense.”
About $1.2 trillion of across-the-board cuts over the next decade emerged in 2013 – after Congress could not agree to specific deficit reductions.
“That was a cop-out,” said Conner. “The country is $17 trillion in debt. National defense is going down by 20 percent. I’m all for cuts that are going to entitlements. But it’s bad that Congress has to have an artificial way to do this.”
Throughout the long discussion, the candidates remained cordial and stuck to their emphasis on their conservative bona fides.
“I like these folks,” Bowers said. “They are good people, and we need you to join us on how we can retake our country.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001.