AIKEN - Sen. Tommy Moore's political beginnings can be traced to a childhood jigsaw puzzle.
At age 8, while making puzzle pieces fit, Mr. Moore memorized the names of all the American presidents imprinted on the game. At 10, he knew the names of all the nation's senators and had ambitions of one day joining their ranks.
"Early on, I was drawn to politics," the lifelong Democrat from Clearwater said recently. "I enjoyed being involved and wanted to become more involved."
His political career began in high school and has led to more than two decades of service in the state Senate. Earlier this year, Mr. Moore announced that he was interested in a U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Strom Thurmond for almost half a century.Mr. Moore backed out, citing poor timing.
It's possible the Clearwater man is planning a different route.
In July, Mr. Moore announced that he was interested in running for lieutenant governor in 2002. He is still considering the position and said recently his decision will come in two weeks.
"I don't know anybody that ran for lieutenant governor who stayed lieutenant governor," Mr. Moore said. "The logic is that (the position) is a stepping stone to run for governor or some other option.
"Your ambition and your political career doesn't end with being lieutenant governor."
Where Mr. Moore's political career will end up, he's not saying. What he does say is that his constituents are more important than his ambitions.
As he walks along a downtown Aiken street, onlookers recognize him. At the sight of a photographer and Mr. Moore together, a woman on the street comments, "Maybe he's announcing today."
Crossing another street, a man in a red pickup truck shouts, "Tommy." The senator waves.
But if running for and winning the lieutenant governor's seat are in Mr. Moore's future, it's going to mean winning in a state dominated by the Republican Party, according to Blease Graham, a University of South Carolina political science professor.
"He certainly seems to be a well-respected state senator, and on that basis he should have some form of a statewide network," Mr. Blease said. "I think his reputation is as a leader in (the) Democratic Party."
Mr. Moore has come to be known as a mediator between the Democratic and Republican parties in the Senate. In recent years, he's smoothed negotiations between the two sides during work on divisive issues, including the state flag and lottery.
"I look at legislative issues not through party perspective, but what would be best for my district and our state," Mr. Moore said. "I really am convinced that has carried me. I get a lot of votes from precincts that are traditionally Republican."
His positions are developed from conversations with constituents, he said.
"We can be in session days upon days and you hear a lot of good presentations from some very intelligent minds," Mr. Moore said. "But I promise you, I have walked into a post office and had a 10-minute conversation with somebody who said, 'Have you thought about it like this?'
"I'm thinking, holy mackerel, all of us there with all of this knowledge and understanding of the legislative process and in 10 minutes that gentleman at the post office, who has little or no formal education, cut right through it and zeroed in."
Mr. Moore has won over Republican voters before. He did it during his first run at the Senate in 1980. To win the seat, he said, he had to win in heavily Republican Lexington County.
What kind of platform the lieutenant governor position offers remains to be seen, Mr. Graham said. Current Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler has announced plans to run for governor in 2002.
"If elections continue to give Republicans dominance in the Senate, it could be a tough prize to win," Mr. Graham added. "Lieutenant governor presides over the Senate but doesn't want to be caught meddling with it."
Working with a Republican majority in the Senate "makes it difficult to be convincing as a leader," Mr. Graham said. "There are a lot of tricks, pitfalls and traps along the way."
Mr. Moore asserts that before he makes any decision, his family, his boiler business and the people he represents will come first.
"I'm about to begin the second year of a four-year term," he said. "I plan to continue to serve my constituents. I will weigh any opportunities very carefully."
Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or email@example.com.