COLUMBIA --- The race to fill an open congressional seat for South Carolina's 3rd District features six Republicans clamoring to outflank one another on the right, who differentiate themselves largely by experience, or lack thereof.
With little separating their platforms, state House Reps. Jeff Duncan and Rex Rice point to their legislative records and votes to cut various taxes, and 71-year-old auto service executive Joe Grimaud cites his age and military service. Three political newcomers boast an outsider's perspective: businessman Richard Cash of Powdersville, attorney Neal Collins of Easley, and general practitioner Dr. Mike Vasovski of Aiken.
They are vying for the chance to replace four-term U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, who is running for governor. The district covers 10 counties in northwestern South Carolina and includes Clemson University, the nearby Oconee Nuclear Station and Savannah River Site. Republicans have held the seat since now-Sen. Lindsey Graham won it in 1994.
Accumulating the most money so far is eight-term House member Rice, 53, of Easley, who had amassed $326,475 as of March 31. Four-term House member Duncan, 44, of Laurens, had collected $229,894 as of the last filing.
Both have put in substantial amounts of their own money: Rice lent himself $120,000, and Duncan $51,600. But Grimaud leads in self-financing: $300,000 as of March 31, and he said last week that he's put in $100,000 more.
Cash had collected $114,332 by March 31, Vasovski $64,778, and Collins $38,970. The three also lent themselves money.
All six Republicans say Congress needs to curtail spending and pass balanced budgets. They say they will push to repeal the recently passed health care law, or if that's impractical, vote not to fund the additional IRS agents needed to implement it and undo the mandate that people buy health insurance.
They blast the federal government for not stopping the flow of illegal workers. They advocate the "fair tax" system to replace income and payroll-related taxes with a national sales tax and a monthly "prebate" for expenses deemed up to poverty-level spending.
All candidates of both parties advocate expanding nuclear power and support the recycling of spent nuclear rods at SRS for use by power plants.
Five of the six Republicans still support offshore drilling. Grimaud said he did support all drilling but now believes it's a moot discussion until the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe is settled.
Rice, a contractor and entrepreneur, advocates throwing out the No Child Left Behind education law, saying education should be up to states. He also says environmental issues should largely be left to states. A vice chairman of the House budget-writing committee, Rice has been willing to buck GOP leadership.
Duncan, an avid hunter, has been a vocal advocate of pro-gun measures in the Legislature and has for years sponsored bills meant to curtail illegal immigration, including one this year to mimic the new Arizona law.
Grimaud, a retired Air Force fighter pilot who flew missions over North Vietnam and Cambodia, boasts his creation of more than 1,000 jobs as owner of Precision Tune stores across the Southeast. He also owns furniture and rental equipment stores in Chapin.
Opponents have made his residency an issue. He bought a second home in Greenwood several months ago to be in the district. He's lived on Lake Murray for 30 years and ran for Congress in a 2001 special election, finishing second to Joe Wilson.
Cash, 50, speaks broadly about the nation's need to turn back to God and says he will advocate allowing prayer in meetings and will advocate policies that reward people for staying married. Cash owns a fleet of ice cream trucks and a used car dealership.
Vasovski, 56, says his inspiration is U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, whom he voted for in the presidential primary. He says Congress should get U.S. troops out of Iraq and expedite an end to the war in Afghanistan. He wants to audit the Federal Reserve, which he blames for keeping interest rates artificially low.
Collins, 27, says he grew up in a mobile home park and realized early the importance of a good education. Like his opponents, he calls for limited government, but supports federal spending on infrastructure, education reform grants, scholarships and research by universities -- without spending any additional money.
Collins, who is single, graduated with a political science degree from Furman and a law degree from the University of South Carolina. He notes he'll be paying student loans until 2037.