South Carolina, State Senate, District 6, Special Primary Election January 15, 2019
By Kirk Brown | The Greenville News
While they agree on issues such as opposing abortion and the need to improve education, the three candidates running in Tuesday's state Senate District 6 Republican primary are relying on contrasting approaches to win over voters.
For starters, each of them has embraced a slightly different conservative moniker.
Greenville City Councilwoman Amy Ryberg Doyle calls herself a business-minded conservative. State Rep. Dwight Loftis says his conservative values best represent the Greenville County district. Jeffrey Stringer is portraying himself as a common-sense conservative with fresh ideas such as legalizing medical marijuana.
State Senate District 6 Republican candidates, from left, Jeffrey Stringer, state Rep. Dwight Loftis and Greenville City Councilwoman Amy Ryberg Doyle took part in a debate Tuesday night at Bob Jones University. (Photo: Kirk Brown)
Labels aside, the race for the seat that William Timmons gave up to replace U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy may hinge on the relative importance of campaign funding, name recognition, social media and behind-the-scenes experience.
If money matters most, then Doyle has the upper hand. Her campaign has been bolstered by a $100,000 loan and more than $55,000 in contributions from supporters ranging from former Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant and state Sen. Chauncey Gregory to a number of business executives in Greenville.
Loftis and Stringer have raised only about $21,000 combined, according to financial disclosures filed earlier this month.
Loftis, who has been a fixture in the state House of Representatives since 1996, is betting that voters will be swayed his long political track record. He also is counting on the effectiveness of his campaign's Facebook page, which is where a video was posted Monday featuring endorsements from fellow House members Mike Burns and Garry Smith and former state Sen. Mike Fair. His House seat would become open if he wins the primary and the special election to follow in March against Democrat Tina Belge.
Stringer, the nephew of state Rep. Tommy Stringer, hopes that two decades of experience as a political operative will pay off.
"We've got a nice, shiny state; we've got beautiful beaches, beautiful mountains," he said during a debate Tuesday night at Bob Jones University that was organized by the Greenville County Republican Party. "But you know what? I think it's time for an overhaul on the engine."
Loftis and Doyle spar online and during debate
For the last week, Loftis has used his campaign's Facebook page to draw attention to Doyle's past Tweets expressing support for taxing unhealthy foods and increasing the state's gas tax, calling for an end to partisan City Council elections and mocking the potential use of assault rifles by hunters.
"Folks, there is a very stark difference between the candidates," Loftis wrote in a post Thursday. "We simply must keep this seat in the hands of a known, true conservative who respects the values of citizens in the district."
Doyle, who has served on the Greenville council since 2007, replaced her old Twitter account with a new one this week.
At Tuesday night's debate, she went on the offensive against Loftis.
"We cannot continue to send the same people down to Columbia and expect change," she said during her opening statement.
Loftis said he has "been a proponent of change" while serving in the House, emphasizing his efforts to foster economic development.
"I do carry with me a lot knowledge of the system, knowledge of the issues," he said. "They say in the House the Senate is where good bills go to die. I want to go over there and help those bills."
Responding to a question about the Second Amendment during the debate, Doyle said, "I have in the past over-shared some of my comments, but I will tell you that I am an advocate for the Second Amendment."
She also criticized Loftis for missing a House vote on a gun-rights measure.
"If you send me down to the Statehouse, I am not going to miss a hard vote," she said. "I am not going to hide in the Statehouse. I will take the hard votes."
Loftis said he didn't recall the vote that Doyle mentioned.
"I have supported every Second Amendment rights bill that I know of," he said.
Stringer said he also supports the Second Amendment.
Loftis chided Doyle during the debate for her Tweets in the past that were critical of President Trump. He and Stringer both warmly praised Trump, prompting applause from the audience.
In a brief interview after the debate, Doyle said, "I support the president."
Candidates agree on abortion, improving education and school choice
All three candidates said during Tuesday's debate that they are against abortion.
"I don't believe in abortion for birth control," Loftis said.
Stringer said he is "100 percent pro-life to the core."
"I am completely pro-life," Doyle said. "I care about your 2-year-old who is nonverbal. I care about the fourth-grader who is over-tested, and I care about your 16-year-old who is overdosing on your bathroom floor.”
There was also a consensus among the candidates about the need to improve education and expand school choice in South Carolina.
"We are trying desperately to do some things in education," said Loftis, adding that he supports increasing the salaries of teachers.
Stringer said teachers need support so they can focus on classroom instruction.
"Let them teach," he said. "Cut the red tape."
Doyle said South Carolina must "address education in a very significant way."
"We cannot test, test, test our children to death," she said.
At the start of the debate, Doyle talked about her family's commitment to public service, citing her brother's three combat tours in Afghanistan and her father's conservative record as a state senator from Aiken.
The mother of four returned to that theme in her closing remarks.
“People ask how can you go down to Columbia with four children? And I will tell you how can I not? How can I not go down for my children and your children and your grandchildren?”