Local and State News

Joe Wilson Draws Challengers From All Sides

By Eva Moore
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Eddie McCain is running as a Republican this year, but ran as a Libertarian in years past. Photo by Sean Rayford

The race to unseat six-term Republican congressman Joe Wilson features a former Libertarian candidate running as a Republican, a former Republican candidate running as a Democrat, and a former Democratic candidate running on the Labor ticket. Also along for the ride are a first-time candidate who’s a Democrat, and Wilson.

Why all the party-switching?

It’s the numbers, says Phil Black, who challenged Wilson several times in Republican primaries before switching to the Democrats’ side this year.

Black notes that he got around 18 percent of the vote in previous GOP primaries. “Then you have 5 to 10 percent who won’t vote for an incumbent” in the general election, he says. Add in the faithful Democratic vote in the general election, and, “I said, ‘You know, that adds up in redneck math to maybe 50 percent.’”

But ask Black if he considers himself a Democrat, and he just laughs. And indeed, many of his views sound straight out of a tea party textbook.

“The first worst thing [this country ever did] was creating the Federal Reserve,” Black says. “The second worst thing was taking us off the gold standard.”

As a congressman, Black would abolish the federal Department of Education, he says, and get the Bible back into the schools. And if you ask him about gay rights, he directs you to a Bible passage saying that fornicators, including men who have sex with men, will not inherit the kingdom of God.

“I do not judge,” he says. “All I ask you to do is get your little Bible out — if you don’t have one, I’ll bring you one — and look at Corinthians 6:9.”

Eddie McCain, meanwhile, is challenging Wilson in the GOP primary, but his switch from the Libertarian to the Republican Party three years ago was a somewhat more principled move than Black’s. He says his views are in line with those of leaders on the far-right flank of the Republican Party, like former Sen. Jim DeMint. In the end, he feels he’d have a better chance in a general election as a Republican than as a Libertarian.

Rep. Joe Wilson

McCain feels Wilson isn’t conservative enough, citing the congressman’s 2008 vote in favor of TARP, which bailed out banks during the financial crisis; and his support of NSA spying on American citizens, the Patriot Act and parts of the National Defense Authorization Act, all of which he feels violate the Constitution.

“More people know about Miley Cyrus twerking than they know about how the Constitution’s supposed to work,” McCain says. “People get behind a politician the same way they get behind a race car driver. There’s no moral or ethical standards behind why they’re pulling for them. It’s frustrating.”

Indeed, he finds it funny that so many people complain about U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham not being conservative enough, when Wilson has taken similar positions in the U.S. House.

“If you don’t like Lindsey Graham because of his voting record, logically you shouldn’t like Joe Wilson,” McCain says. “The only difference between Lindsey Graham and Joe Wilson is Lindsey Graham’s a media hound. Joe Wilson flies under the radar.”

Wilson’s campaign spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment on McCain’s campaign or his take on the congressman’s record.

McCain’s thrown himself into his campaign, spending long hours waving at passing cars from the dirt parking lot near the west side of the Gervais Street bridge, and meeting with constituents in the 2nd Congressional District’s many small towns. His truck is adorned with signs promoting term limits and an end to congressional pensions.

But neither McCain nor Black has raised any money, according to the Federal Election Commission. And fundraising is seen as a marker of serious election contenders.

Wilson has raised close to $600,000 dollars.

Ed Greenleaf, who’s running on the Democratic ticket, had raised $16,646 as of his last finance report.

Greenleaf will face Black in the Democratic primary June 10, and the two men’s views offer some stark contrasts.

Asked about his party-switching opponent, Greenleaf says, “I think it’s important to elect a Democrat to be the Democratic nominee.”

A former BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina executive, Greenleaf is focusing his campaign on jobs, education and better oversight of veterans’ services.

He sees the potential for better economic development along the I-20 corridor, citing the many near-empty industrial parks.

“They just need leadership to pull those groups together, present a singular voice to industry,” he says. “It’s the perfect place to have high-paying jobs.” He cites the many universities that serve the area, coupled with the problem that “It seems our best and brightest escape us and leave.”

Greenleaf is concerned about public education, saying he would propose deploying 100,000 new teachers and teachers’ aides around the country to address growing education needs.

And he blasts Wilson for his failure to address problems in the veterans health system, particularly in light of the fact that Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia has struggled with backlogs and cleanliness, and earned a rank in 2013 of 127th out of 128 VA hospitals in its rate of health care-associated infections.

“The role of Congress is an oversight role,” Greenleaf says. “Our Congress has been asleep at the switch on the issue of veterans affairs. … I will make that my personal mission. I will be in the face of the VA — not just attacking them, but working on solutions.”

Whoever wins the June 10 Republican and Democratic primaries for the seat will face off in a fall election. They’ll also face Harold Geddings III, who’s running on the Labor ticket.

And why did Geddings, a union sheet metal worker, decide to run as a Labor candidate rather than a Democrat, as he has in the past?

“They wanted too much money for a line on the ballot,” he says of the Democrats. “For someone earning 15 bucks an hour, a $3,400-buck filing fee is too much.”

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