S.C. Lawmaker Faces Crowded GOP Primary

Posted March 26, 2010 at 5:11pm

One good thing that came out of last week’s health care vote in the House, according to Rep. Bob Inglis (R), is that it showed voters in his upstate South Carolina district exactly where he stands on the issue.

And that, the Congressman said, must be “terribly disappointing” for his multiple primary opponents who he says have been trying to distort his position on the legislation to poke holes in his conservative credentials.

Even with his “no” vote on the books, some South Carolina GOP insiders said last week that Inglis still has work to do to convince GOP voters that he continues to be a consistently conservative voice representing a solidly Republican district.

“Bob is going to have to answer for his entire body of work,” one Palmetto State GOP operative who is not involved in a 4th district campaign said last week. “He may use the health care vote to spin it, but those votes that he took in previous years don’t go away.”

Inglis is serving his second tour in the House after having served from 1992 to 1998. He returned to the House in 2004, and in recent years some conservatives have criticized Inglis for moving too far to the center.

His vote in early 2007 supporting the Democratic resolution opposing the “surge” in Iraq was a key reason he earned a primary challenge last cycle.

Inglis was able to beat back that challenge with relative ease, but this cycle’s primary appears to be much more serious.

To begin with, Inglis’ opponents this year include a pair of seasoned politicians who are proving they can put together serious campaigns with serious cash.

In 2008, Inglis’ opponent, a bureaucrat for the Environmental Protection Agency, raised less than $30,000 for his campaign.

This cycle, Spartanburg County Solicitor Trey Gowdy (R) expects to have raised close to $400,000 for his campaign by the end of the month, and state State Sen. David Thomas (R) had raised nearly $140,000 as of Dec. 31.

Meanwhile, Inglis’ policy and political positions continue to occasionally irk hard-core conservatives. They include Inglis’ support for initiatives aimed at reducing carbon emissions and his vote last fall to back the official rebuke of fellow South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson (R) for shouting “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during a joint session of Congress.

During his first stint in Congress, Inglis was considered a conservative firebrand, but he has since adopted a more pragmatic approach to legislating. He isn’t a Member who goes on television to spit venom about the Democratic agenda, and he said he understands where some of the confusion over his conservative bona fides comes from.

“I’m talking about solutions,” Inglis said. “I don’t go around scapegoating the Speaker or scapegoating the president.” But his primary opponents “are real good at talking about scapegoats.”

Gowdy said voter confusion is more likely the result of Inglis dancing between his positions in Washington, D.C., and what he’s now telling voters back home.

“Whatever waters were muddied, he would have no one but himself to blame,” Gowdy said. “I’m not going to say he supported Obamacare, [but] his position is amorphous at best.”

Gowdy said Inglis has sent mixed signals on the subject of the individual mandate in the health care bill and has done the same thing with issues from global warming to compromising with Democratic leaders in Washington.

For Inglis to earn a seventh term in the safely Republican 4th district, he’ll have to muster a majority of the vote in the June 8 primary. If no one in the six-person field exceeds 50 percent, the top two vote-getters will face off in a runoff two weeks later.

Several race watchers believe Gowdy has the best shot at making it into a runoff with Inglis.

One South Carolina operative pointed out that along with lagging behind Gowdy in the money chase, Thomas has a record in Columbia “and in a lot of ways that’s as bad as having a record in Washington.”

Chip Felkel, a Republican strategist based in Greenville, said Thomas is more likely to play the role of spoiler to help Gowdy keep down Inglis’ vote total to ensure a runoff.

Thomas’ legislative district is based in the more populous Greenville portion of the 4th district. Greenville is also Inglis’ base and the part of the district where Gowdy — who has served as Spartanburg’s solicitor for a decade — has the most work to do.

Due in part to what has so far been Inglis’ rather underwhelming fundraising performance (the Congressman had a little more than $300,000 in cash on hand as of Dec. 31), Gowdy has been able to stay within striking distance in fundraising.

That will help keep Gowdy from being drowned out in the upcoming air war. Gowdy said he plans to release his first television commercial in early to mid-April and plans to stay up until the primary.

It’s probably not hard to guess the message Gowdy will go for in those ads.

“A year ago [Inglis] was bragging about his moderation,” he said. “It was only because of a rise in conservatism in the 4th Congressional district that he is running as fast as he can to the right. … He’s been fairly late to the party with respect to figuring out that people are fairly unhappy.”