Originally created 11/05/06

Carolina Comptroller candidates trade barbs for weeks before vote



COLUMBIA - Negative campaigns aren't uncommon in high profile races in the weeks leading up to the election, but few expected a ballot race for an often-forgotten position such as comptroller general to turn nasty.

Incumbent Republican Richard Eckstrom accused his opponent of having two failing businesses and failing to pay taxes.

Democratic opponent Drew Theodore says Mr. Eckstrom has intimidated women and took a family trip to Minnesota in a state-owned van, charging his gasoline to a state credit card.

The comptroller general has two jobs - making sure the state's bills get paid and getting a seat on the Budget and Control Board, which is charged with the day-to-day operation of South Carolina's budget.

Some of the accusations do connect with the job description. Mr. Eckstrom has frequently touted that he is a certified public accountant in a position that should require a CPA. Mr. Theodore works in insurance.

But Mr. Theodore's campaign points out that Mr. Eckstrom's CPA license was declared inactive in 2002.

"If Mr. Eckstrom can't keep his CPA license straight, how can he be trusted to handle the people's money?" asked Phil Baily, Mr. Theodore's campaign director.

Mr. Eckstrom allowed his license to become inactive when he was elected state treasurer in 1994 so he could concentrate on his job and picked it back up four years ago, said Rod Shealy, Mr. Eckstrom's campaign adviser.

The candidates traded many of their sharpest barbs at a debate in early October, when Mr. Eckstrom accused Mr. Theodore of owning two businesses that failed.

But Mr. Theodore insists he never owned the business, called Varsity Snack Shop Inc., which belonged to his late father-in-law.

At the end of the debate, an emotional Mr. Theodore accused Mr. Eckstrom's campaign of spreading rumors he cheated on his wife. He denied it, saying it hurt him deeply to have to sit his daughters down and tell them the rumors were not true.

"He also lied about my family," said Mr. Theodore, who then added that Mr. Eckstrom "has had his own problems with intimidating women."

He also pointed out Mr. Eckstrom's campaign hired Will Folks, a Republican adviser and former spokesman at the governor's office who pleaded guilty to domestic violence last year, "to do nothing but attack my family."

The accusations that Mr. Eckstrom intimidated women aren't true, Mr. Shealy said.

The campaign turned negative after Mr. Theodore held a news conference to present records that showed Mr. Eckstrom took a state-owned minivan on a 2004 vacation to Minnesota and paying for fuel with a state-issued gas card.

Mr. Eckstrom apologized and noted he had repaid the state $669.40 in September to cover fuel and vehicle use costs for the 3,615-mile trip to Grand Marais, Minn.

Mr. Theodore said Mr. Eckstrom's bad judgment shows he isn't fit to watch over the state's money.

Mr. Eckstrom blamed the media for having a dual standard and being tougher on conservative Republicans, although he didn't answer when the moderators asked him to point out a similar incident involving someone else the media did not report.

CANDIDATE PROFILES

Richard Eckstrom


PARTY: Republican

DATE OF BIRTH: June 23, 1948

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree, master's of business administration and master's of accountancy, all from the University of South Carolina

CAREER: Chief financial officer, Columbia Business Equipment; certified public accountant

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: State treasurer, 1995-99; ran unsuccessfully for House District 88 in 2000

PERSONAL: Married, three children

Drew Theodore


PARTY: Democrat

DATE OF BIRTH: Oct. 29, 1956, in Greenville

EDUCATION: Associate's degree, Lees McRae College, and bachelor's degree from the University of South Carolina

CAREER: Founded Goldsmith-Theodore Agency Inc. in Columbia; chairman of the Independent Agents and Brokers of South Carolina's board, 2004-05

POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: None

PERSONAL: Married, four children