Originally created 01/06/02

Hodges race pits record, tough issues

AIKEN - Judging by 2001, South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges may have some trouble with voters in November.

The slumping economy and budget problems, his opponents say, could be fixed if he would only do more.

A scandal at the Department of Commerce, his opponents say, resulted from his lack of oversight.

But judging by political victories in his first term as a Democratic governor in a state dominated by Republicans, Mr. Hodges may have a fighting chance.

His supporters say he promised and delivered a state lottery, improvements to education and affordable prescription drugs for seniors.

The battle for the governor's office already has drawn seven Republicans - all saying they would do things differently than Mr. Hodges.

They are collectively referred to as "the seven dwarfs" by Dick Harpootlian, the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.

One of the seven, Columbia attorney Ken Wingate, said Mr. Hodges' promises to be an education governor have not been fulfilled.

"I'm going to take it to him on that one," Mr. Wingate said. "I think he has tried to make that his issue and that delights me to no end because I am willing to talk all day long about his education agenda."

Mr. Wingate, a zealous lottery opponent, says the lottery's success will not be tied to the governor's success in the ballot box.

But Newberry Sen. Andre Bauer, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, says Mr. Hodges has few claims in the political game of "what have you done for me lately," but the lottery could be one.

The other big issues of 2000 - such as the lowering of the Confederate flag from the state Capitol - doesn't hold much weight now, he said.

But Mr. Hodges could reap votes because college scholarships funded by the lottery are set to hit about a month before the November election.

"He's got two things going for him right now - money in the bank and scholarships," Mr. Bauer said. "I don't think he's got much to run on. What's he got to hang his hat on?"

Mr. Hodges' supporters say education is his issue and the issue of voters, a good combination for a re-election campaign. The delivery of the lottery sets him apart as a man of his word, they say.

"The number one issue with the vast majority of South Carolinians is education and Jim Hodges owns that issue," Mr. Harpootlian said. "He is so far ahead of any other potential opponent."

The debate continues over Mr. Hodges' role in the ongoing scandal at the Department of Commerce.

In September, the department's chief of staff, Wayne Sterling, resigned amid accusations of misuse of funds.

Then the department issued a report saying Mr. Sterling overlooked questionable purchasing practices by another employee. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Sen. Tommy Moore, D-Clearwater, said the acts of individuals aren't the result of Mr. Hodges doing a bad job as chief executive of the state.

"I don't think anybody can tie that to the governor as much as they try," Mr. Moore said. "The governor can't be blamed for everything that happens at every agency. It's the political season and those who are trying to capitalize on it will say anything."

On the economy, Mr. Hodges can't take all the weight, his supporters say.

"If anybody looks at the shortfall or some of the economic conditions, look no further than the General Assembly," Mr. Moore said.

In the end, Mr. Harpootlian said, Mr. Hodges' term as a whole is his trump card with voters.

"I think the people of South Carolina seem happy with the job he's done and want to give him another four years," Mr. Harpootlian said. "I think that is an incredible record that the generalities and the negativities of the seven dwarfs can't compete with."

Reach Matthew Boedy at (803) 648-1395 or matthew.boedy@augustachronicle.com.


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