Originally created 04/14/02

Three vie for GOP's nomination for law job



AIKEN - A month ago, no one thought a 13-year-old allegation would force one of the candidates for attorney general out of the race.

Sen. John Hawkins, R-Spartanburg, had seen his political career clouded by a 1989 rape case in which the charges had been dismissed. Recent comments from a police officer about the allegations sent his campaign for statewide office into a tailspin, forcing him to exit in March.

After that, many predicted correctly that state GOP Chairman Henry McMaster would run.

The two men now facing Mr. McMaster for the Republican nomination - former Deputy Attorney General Jon Ozmint and former Judge Larry Richter - say Mr. McMaster's presence in the race won't derail their attempts to focus the campaign on their records.

Their message to voters is that experience in the court of law outweighs experience in the court of public opinion.

The three are vying for the chance to face Democrat Steve Benjamin, a former head of the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.

Mr. McMaster, who has been GOP chairman for nine years, says that while his run for the state's top law enforcement job would unify the state party after the divisiveness seen in Mr. Hawkins' exit, he isn't without proven experience.

He was U.S attorney for South Carolina from 1981 to 1985.

But Mr. Ozmint says his campaign and Mr. McMaster's have striking differences.

"Clearly, Henry brings the political choice to the race, and that may be the choice people want in that office. But I am the prosecutors' choice," he said.

Mr. Richter, a former senator, makes a similar argument.

"I draw the distinction between me and Mr. McMaster that he has been the epitome of a political person. He's a replacement for John Hawkins," Mr. Richter said.

Mr. Ozmint and Mr. Benjamin resigned their offices to run for attorney general.

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