COLUMBIA, S.C. -- With a contentious U.S. Senate primary under way, Republicans at the state party convention were asked Saturday to stay unified.
That could be easier said than done. Sharp divisions were apparent - particularly on matters of international trade and immigration - in the messages Senate hopefuls offered as they asked delegates for support.
"Some folks want to build a wall around this country and take us backwards and try to go back to textile mill villages," said U.S. Rep. Jim DeMint, one of the six vying for the GOP's Senate nomination.
"Folks, we've come a long way from there and we've got much more opportunity than that in this state," DeMint said, calling for the state and nation to become more competitive and use more enforceable trade agreements.
Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride said the walls need to go up, particularly on immigration. "President Bush's immigration policy is wrong for South Carolina and is wrong for this country," he said. "I am a protectionist. I say put up the wall; keep the illegals out and the illegals that are here, we need to send them back. We've got to go back and put the American worker first," McBride said.
But "protectionism is not going to create one new job," said Charleston real estate developer Thomas Ravenel. Other nations will retaliate and "we will lose jobs," Ravenel said. "Cheap foreign labor is not the main culprit. The main culprit in America ... is high taxation, high regulation, the high cost of litigation and the high cost of health care."
"You and I believe in free trade," former Gov. David Beasley said. "But what today we have is no longer free trade. ... We must do what is necessary to protect our jobs and families so they can experience the American dream."
Former Attorney General Charlie Condon said Republicans have done damage in Washington. Federal government has expanded more in the past five years than in the previous 50, Condon said. "Republicans were acting like Democrats with out-of-control, wasteful government spending," Condon said.
Whoever wins the Senate primary on June 8 will go against Democratic state Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum or little known Marcus Belk in November for the seat of retiring U.S. Senator, Ernest "Fritz" Hollings.
Other divisions loom within the GOP, notably Republican Gov. Mark Sanford's growing raft of rifts with the Legislature that his party controls. That includes a recent veto fight Sanford lost. Sanford then said he's considering taking the Legislature court.
Sanford told the convention, including dozens of legislators who serve as delegates, that disagreements should be expected. "If we didn't have ideas, there would be nothing to disagree on," Sanford said.
Differences can hurt, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. "If it gets to be a virus and infects people's willingness to work with each other and turns into personal dislike, then it becomes devastatingly bad," Graham said.
"A protracted fight between the Legislature ... run by Republicans and a Republican governor will have one outcome: Republicans will lose ground," Graham said.
Graham told delegates low minority participation in the Republican party is "a problem and we need to openly talk about."
Looking across the convention floor, Graham noted a smattering of blacks in the crowd, but "31 percent of our state is African-American," he said.
"It is time for the Republican Party to become the party of working people, regardless of region, regardless of race," he said. "Get involved in changing our party - not what we believe, but the way we look."
Also during the convention, Katon Dawson was re-elected state Republican Party chairman without opposition. Dawson was first elected in April 2002.
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