CHARLESTON, S.C. Columbia attorney and lobbyist Dwight Drake, who worked on the staffs of two South Carolina governors, announced Tuesday he will run as a Democrat in an increasingly crowded field for next year's gubernatorial election.
Drake, 64, worked for Govs. John West and Dick Riley in the 1970s and 1980s and this year helped a student sue Republican Gov. Mark Sanford to use federal stimulus money for education. Four other Democrats and three Republicans are also in the race.
Drake said the big issue for South Carolina is jobs. The state's unemployment rate was 12.1 percent in June, the nation's fourth-highest behind Michigan, Rhode Island and Oregon.
"We need to get South Carolina working again and the past few years have been wasted," Drake said. "Because of that South Carolina is first in unemployment in the South."
Drake said that while Sanford has been in the news in recent weeks with the revelation of his affair with an Argentine woman and questions about his travel, "he has actually been AWOL on jobs from the beginning."
Drake, who represented BMW when the automaker was in negotiations to open its manufacturing plant in the Upstate in the 1990s, said as long as Sanford remains governor, business prospects won't take the state seriously.
"A governor should wake up in the morning thinking about jobs and go to sleep at night thinking about jobs," he said. "He hasn't made jobs a priority and he hasn't made education a priority."
The state Supreme Court earlier ordered Sanford to request $700 million in federal stimulus money, much of which goes to struggling schools.
State Sens. Vincent Sheheen of Camden and Robert Ford of Charleston, along with Charleston lawyer Mullins McLeod and Charleston pastor Amos Elliott, are also seeking the Democratic nomination.
Superintendent of Education Jim Rex and House Minority Leader Harry Ott of Calhoun County are also considering runs although neither has announced.
U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, state Sen. Larry Grooms of Berkeley County and state Rep. Nikki Haley of Lexington are seeking the GOP nomination. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and Attorney General Henry McMaster are expected to announce plans later.
Sanford, limited by law to two terms, cannot seek re-election.
In a strongly Republican state, Drake sees a chance for Democrats after scandals have tainted GOP office holders.
"With the behavior of the governor, and the treasurer Ravenel going to jail for drugs and the commissioner of agriculture going to jail for bribery, the Republican Party has ill-served the people," he said.
Former treasurer Thomas Ravenel resigned in 2007 and served 10 months for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Former agriculture commissioner Charles Sharpe served two years for extortion, admitting in 2005 to taking money from a group prosecutors said bred birds for cockfighting.
Blease Graham, a University of South Carolina political scientist, said the actions of an incumbent can influence subsequent elections. He noted former Republican Gov. David Beasley lost his 1998 re-election bid because of his positions on video poker and the Confederate flag.
"In that regard a governor can change the political landscape dramatically," Graham said. "The whole Sanford discussion may overshadow a Republican primary and the Republican candidates and put them on the defensive when they normally wouldn't be."