Originally created 06/02/01

Hodges will rally on walk



COLUMBIA - Gov. Jim Hodges, trying to stay a step ahead of critics and political rivals, will hit the blacktop later this year to hear from people he'll need to become the state's first re-elected Democratic governor in two decades.

Already his plans to walk the state have sparked a "walk-off" challenge by a frequent critic, Republican Attorney General Charlie Condon, who wants the GOP gubernatorial nomination a year from now.

At its heart, the candidate walk is nothing new, but it's a path few incumbents tread these days, Clemson University political science professor Dave Woodard said.

"This is a political stunt of the shades of Lamar Alexander's walk across Tennessee," Mr. Woodard said.

Republican Alexander used it successfully in his gubernatorial bid in Tennessee; Andy Brack used it in his failed Democratic bid for the Lowcountry's 1st District U.S. Representative seat; and state Sen. Andre Bauer, R-Newberry, trumpeted his walk during his re-election bid last fall.

Mr. Hodges set on the idea after talking with Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack about his summer sojourn across that state last June that covered 21 towns and 318 miles - though Mr. Vilsack walked for 100 miles. Mr. Vilsack, an avid runner, said the journey was about connecting with people and emphasizing exercise.

The "political part of it is secondary to the great learning experience it is to be able to talk to people about what their concerns are. It makes me a better governor," Mr. Hodges said.

While Mr. Hodges can use exposure, Mr. Woodard said things can backfire.

Mr. Woodard says Mr. Hodges' approval rating and name recognition are about average for a midterm governor.

Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian says recent party polling showed both categories are high for Mr. Hodges.

Mr. Hodges also can expect Mr. Condon at his heel or toe, depending on the day. "I'm going to be there to answer the gimmickry," the attorney general said. "I think it's actually one of these moves that you do when you're as weak as he is."

Mr. Hodges says he expects the criticism from Mr. Condon and others.

Branding it a stunt or a ploy reflects "an incredible amount of cynicism and it ignores the important part of this job: having two good ears that you use listening to what people have to say," Mr. Hodges said.

Besides, Mr. Hodges said, "There are a lot of easier stunts to do than to do something like this."

Mr. Hodges hasn't decided whether he'll travel north to south or east to west or when he'll take the trip. He says he will walk with selected people and take part in planned events along the way.

Mr. Harpootlian knows what to expect.

During the 1998 campaign, Mr. Hodges regularly stopped at a restaurant near Fort Mill, called the Wagon Wheel, Mr. Harpootlian said. And when the Wagon Wheel wasn't within reach, Mr. Hodges would find some other meat-and-three vegetable restaurant to hang out with an unsophisticated crowd, Mr. Harpootlian said.

"He likes that," Mr. Harpootlian said.