An Officer and a Congressman?
Former Capitol Cop Making Long-Shot House Bid in South Carolina
Andrew Wittman refers to himself as the “uncandidate” with the “uncampaign,” but this former Capitol Hill police officer without political experience is running for Congress as a Democrat in South Carolina’s heavily Republican 4th district.
“There’s a lot of talk that America needs leadership,” Wittman said. “[It] needs servants in positions of leadership.”
Wittman announced his candidacy last week in Greenville, S.C., accompanied by 50 family members, friends and supporters, including Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields, Wittman’s commanding officer while he was a Marine in Operation Desert Storm.
He is the first Democrat to have formally entered the race to succeed Rep. Jim DeMint (R), who is running for Senate.
Wittman joined the Capitol Police in 1998 as a uniformed officer, and had a variety of experiences during his career on the Hill.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist strikes, Wittman became Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) lead advance agent. During the anthrax scare, Wittman was part of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) security detail. From September 2002 until he left the force last March, he served as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) “body man” on her security detail. Since last March he has done freelance work accompanying House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
“I traveled and met interesting people,” Wittman said. “I got the inside track on how the process works.”
Wittman said his time on Capitol Hill also taught him how to look beyond people’s political affiliations.
“You cannot put people in a box and prejudge them because of what party they’re in,” he said. “You need to know their hearts.”
The son of missionaries, Wittman spent his childhood around the globe. Originally from Delaware, Wittman spent a year in New York City and started high school in Australia. After going back to Delaware to finish high school, Wittman spent six years in the Marines, where he served in Desert Storm. After returning from war, Wittman became a Spartanburg County Sheriff’s deputy in South Carolina. He now lives in Greer, S.C., with his wife, Kim, and their three children— Drew, 6, Jack, 3, and Michaela Grace, 1 month.
Wittman says he ended up in Washington, D.C., by chance. “When Drew was born my wife wanted to stay home, and she was making 65 percent of our income,” he said.
Wittman started applying for federal jobs. He ended up joining the Capitol Police force because the department was the first to offer him a position.
Despite Wittman’s good intentions, South Carolina’s 4th district is heavily stacked against him. Republicans have had a stranglehold on the district and have won the past three Congressional elections with at least 70 percent of the vote.
With DeMint in the Senate race, the leading Republican candidate is former Rep. Bob Inglis, who held the seat from 1993 to 1999.
Wittman said Pelosi advised him about running in a seemingly safe Republican district.
“She said she wanted me to be careful not to run off a cliff because of the numbers down here,” he said.
But Wittman appears unperturbed by the long odds, calling himself “a bridge guy” who can appeal to the district’s social conservatives.
Inglis, who has been working as a commercial real estate lawyer since losing a 1998 South Carolina Senate race, said he would not take a race against Wittman for granted.
“I take it seriously, and I take all the primary contenders seriously,” he said. “My predecessor in 1992 was a Democrat. Many Republicans would say it’s impossible. I take it all seriously. I think we Republicans have to earn the right to represent this district.”
Inglis said he had $240,000 in the bank for his campaign at the end of the year.
Although they have not begun fundraising, Wittman’s campaign co-chairmen are confident that he will have enough money to run a viable campaign.
Wittman’s plan is to create a Web site to encourage 100,000 people to each give $5 a month throughout the campaign.
“It gives back to the people and gets them involved in the process,” he said.
Andy Arnold, one of Wittman’s campaign co-chairmen, said he wanted to announce his candidacy before the Feb. 3 South Carolina presidential primary. Arnold said Wittman has a box at this week’s presidential debate, where he and six of his guests will raise money and pass out literature. Wittman also plans to attend a variety of events surrounding the debates and primary.
“While we’ve got these folks captive we’ll give Andrew some face time and hand out literature,” Arnold said.
Chandra Dillard, a member of the Greenville City Council and Wittman’s second co-chairman, said campaign events that will be free or inexpensive.
“We want to plan a variety of things so everyone will have access to Andrew,” Dillard said. “Fundraising will be included in some of these events.”
While he campaigns, Wittman is working as the vice president of business development for the Shark Group, an investment firm that he helped create in the 1990s. Wittman is also enjoying his time at home with his family.
“I love hanging out with my kids,” Wittman said. “We’re going to a monster-truck rally tonight. I’ve been starved for family time.”