- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

GALIVANTS FERRY, S.C. (AP) - Nearly 20 Democratic candidates stood in front of the stump at one of South Carolina’s oldest political gatherings Monday and made their case to voters. But unlike the Galivants Ferry Stump gatherings from generations ago, almost every one of them will be the underdogs in their races in November.

Gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen joined lieutenant governor candidate Bakari Sellers, U.S. House candidate Gloria Bromell Tinubu and four U.S. Senate candidates. They all struck a common theme - that South Carolina Republicans are like Republicans nationwide, only helping a select, well-off few while ignoring the needs of most people.

“We can’t take it anymore,” South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Harrison said. “And we won’t take it anymore.”

For Democrats to stem the tide will require some stunning upsets. Democrats, who haven’t won a statewide race since 2006, control just one of the state’s seven U.S. House seats. A Democrat hasn’t won a seat back from a Republican at the statewide level in 16 years, since Jim Hodges upset the Republican incumbent governor David Beasley.

Sheheen is trying to replicate the feat. It’s a rematch of the 2010 race, which Gov. Nikki Haley won by over 4 percentage points. And in a year when South Carolina will choose whether to send Republican incumbents back to the governor’s office, both U.S. Senate seats and six of the state’s seven U.S. House seats, most of the criticism was aimed at Haley.

She was blamed for the potholes in the roads and the poor health of many of the state’s citizens since she urged fellow Republican lawmakers not to accept money from the federal government to expand Medicaid. Speakers said she isn’t serious about improving education or wages.

“South Carolina is no longer a third world state and it shouldn’t look like one in 2014,” said keynote speaker Jimmy Williams, a contributor to MSNBC and a South Carolina native.

Haley has pointed out she took over a state in a mess because of the Great Recession. Her campaign notes the unemployment rate in South Carolina was 5.7 percent in March, down from over 10 percent when she took office. Haley said she is trying improve schools and roads without raising taxes.

“We’re happy to spend the next six months talking about South Carolina today compared to before Governor Haley took office …,” her spokesman Rob Godfrey said in an email.

But state Sen. Brad Hutto, who is running for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s seat, said that misses the point: Government can do good things and assure wide groups of people aren’t left behind.

“I like government,” Hutto said. “I like good government, effective government, efficient government, open government, smart government. I want government that works for the people, not the powerful.”

It is still the South, so the stump speaking opened with the national anthem and a prayer on a steamy afternoon on the banks of the Little Pee Dee River. There was a donkey to pet and plenty of chicken bog, a soggy stew fixed over rice. More than 100 people attended.

The organizers planned to honor former U.S. Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, who first spoke at the stump 60 years ago to kick off a run for lieutenant governor, but he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t attend.

Back then, Republicans had almost no presence in South Carolina and the stump was a good way to sort through Democrats before the primary, when the nominee was the likely general election winner too.

The father of the South Carolina Republican Party, Sen. Strom Thurmond spoke here in 1948 when he was a Democrat running for governor. Legend has it he whipped all 10 of the other candidates in a debate on his way to winning the race.

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