Dem South Carolina gov ticket aims to appeal to all voters

October 19, 2018
Democratic gubernatorial nominee James Smith and his running mate, Mandy Powers Norrell, on a campaign swing through Walhalla, S.C., Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018.. The state representatives recently took a trip to South Carolina’s extreme northwest, a conservative stronghold, meeting with Republicans who say they’re crossing the aisle to support their candidacy. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

WALHALLA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s conservative Upstate isn’t typically where Democratic candidates devote much campaign time. But for gubernatorial ticket James Smith and Mandy Powers Norrell, it’s where they feel their message has the ability to resonate with voters not typically reached by Democratic candidates.

And in a recent campaign swing, in which The Associated Press was given an exclusive all-day look, they’re picking up support from Republicans, some of whom are staunch supporters of President Donald Trump.

In Walhalla, Smith and Norrell were greeted in an outdoors gear store by Jared Ketterman, a businessman who is helping lead an effort to revitalize parts of the small city in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in South Carolina’s extreme northwest corner.

Smith strode into the store wearing a suit and a ball cap bearing the SouthCack logo of Ketterman’s clothing line and talking about The Root Doctors, a band he helped found decades ago. Ketterman, who grew up in a Republican family and has voted that way his whole life, said Smith’s every-man mentality and commitment to working through issues in a bipartisan way, the way he’s approached his two decades in the Legislature, had helped change his own outlook on politics.

“I met James, and all of a sudden I don’t vote Republican,” Ketterman said. “It’s the ball cap. It’s the band. It’s the real deal.”

Patrick Elswick, a Marine Corps veteran who runs a nonprofit to help other veterans, said he’s also a Republican but identifies with Smith because he feels he’d be a governor more willing than incumbent Gov. Henry McMaster to advocate for the population he serves. Elswick, who spoke at some of Trump’s rallies during the 2016 campaign, says he was impressed by the president’s commitment to support veteran groups, even meeting with him to discuss the issue.

“I am a Republican, and James knows this,” Elswick said. “The reason I want him to win, he’s picking people over party, and I think that’s the most important thing you can do as a politician.”

South Carolina hasn’t elected a Democrat as its governor in 20 years, but in introducing Norrell, a conservative Democrat, as his running mate, Smith said in May that he knew she would help bring some of the crossover votes they’ll need to defeat McMaster on Nov. 6.

This year is the first in which South Carolina’s governor and lieutenant governor run on a ticket, as opposed to in individual elections. Smith and Norrell are spending much of that time campaigning together, something they say drives home the teamwork mentality they bring to the campaign.

“From the very start, it’s been about building a team for the campaign, for transition, for governance,” Smith said. “I wanted to put together the best team that would serve our state, and I think that’s reflected in our campaigning.”

As they ride through the state in Smith’s SUV, plastered with campaign stickers and flags, time in between events is spent on fundraising calls, responding to media inquiries and sketching out plans for subsequent campaign trips.

There’s also debate prep, doing videos to update supporters on their schedules, as well as social media about upcoming events. Smith and Norrell do much of the posting themselves, lending what they hope is an authentic voice to their messaging. After recording a short video update to send out to supporters in Greenville, Norrell peeled off to head toward more traditional Democrat territory, speaking at an event in Orangeburg featuring New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. Smith remained in the Upstate to attend previously-scheduled campaign events.

To the large, predominantly black crowd of Democrats assembled at a cookout for campaigns including her own, Norrell spoke of Medicaid expansion and accused incumbent McMaster of refusing the money “just because it’s tied to President Obama.”

Norrell went on to tell the crowd, “That’s like rejecting your own tax refund, and nobody does that because it’s stupid.”

Forty-six days out from the general election, Smith and Norrell set a goal of visiting all 46 of the state’s counties, rolling out a campaign video featuring school children singing a song with all the counties’ names. With the release, Smith’s campaign stressed a commitment to representing people all across the state, regardless of background or traditional party affiliation.

That’s exactly what Elswick said drew him to Smith’s candidacy in the first place, and why he’s trying to muster support for him and for Norrell when they face voters in a few weeks.

“Right now we’re getting a whole lot of nothing,” Elswisk said. “And something is better than nothing.”


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Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP .