AIKEN - The South Carolina Republican Party has yet to find a replacement candidate to run against state Sen. Tommy Moore, but party officials are already trying to portray the veteran Clearwater Democrat as a tax-and-spend liberal and a clone of his party's presidential nominee, John Kerry.
State GOP Chairman Katon Dawson and Executive Director Luke Byars are centering their attack on Mr. Moore's failed $912.8 million tax package from the 2003 legislative session. That proposal would have raised cigarette and sales taxes to plug a revenue hole in South Carolina's Medicaid program, given state employees their first pay raise in more than three years and bolstered public school budgets that have been ravaged by deep state revenue cuts.
Mr. Byars also tried to tie the Democratic Party's leading candidate for U.S. Senate, Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, to Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts liberal.
"The point to debate is whether you want someone who is going to raise taxes, like Sen. Moore, Inez Tenenbaum and John Kerry, or someone who will cut taxes like all of our Senate candidates, President Bush and the candidate we hope to have running against Sen. Moore," he said.
"He's not talking about a small fee increase. He's talking about one of the largest tax increases in state history."
Mr. Moore, however, has not proposed a tax increase during the current legislative session, although he has been a sharp critic of the strategy of Republican Gov. Mark Sanford and the GOP-controlled Legislature to gun down all proposed tax increases in hopes the economy will turn around and sharply raise revenues.
"This notion of the Republicans that we can grow our way out of this mess is foolishness," Mr. Moore said. "We can either let things drift or take action. But I guess the Republicans would rather let South Carolina be last in everything."
Mr. Moore also pointed out that his shelved tax package contained a targeted income tax cut for small businesses from 7 percent to 5 percent; an income tax exemption for those making $15,000 or less; and an increase in the homestead exemption for senior citizens, the disabled and the blind, from $50,000 to $55,000.
About 48 percent of the state's income tax returns come from people making $15,000 or less, while small businesses are the backbone of economic growth, he said.
Mr. Moore, who has been a Democratic state senator in an increasingly Republican state since 1981, challenged Republicans to a debate on his tax package.
"Don't give glib political answers," he said. "Don't give political slogans. Come out from behind the woodwork and debate it."
Republicans are still searching for a challenger to Mr. Moore. Mr. Byars said Republicans hope to quickly find one candidate, avoiding the expense and bureaucratic problems of a possible special primary.
Reach Jim Nesbitt at (803) 648-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.