South Carolina Democrats finally have a candidate for governor.
State Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, announced Thursday he will seek his party’s nomination for the state’s highest office.
An Afghanistan War veteran and Columbia attorney with two decades of legislative experience, Smith is the first and, thus far, only gubernatorial candidate on the ballot for the Democrats.
Smith long has been considered a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination. His background as a combat veteran could help him compete with the GOP nominee by appealing to moderate Republicans in a general election.
In a statement about his candidacy, Smith said, “All of my life I have felt the call to service,” and “it was in that spirit” that Smith decided he wanted “to fight for our country and protect our way of life.”
A Judge Advocate General officer for eight years in the S.C. Army National Guard, Smith resigned his officer’s commission and enlist in the infantry after visiting Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on New York City.
At age 37, he began basic training. In February 2007, Smith deployed to Afghanistan as an infantry officer as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He served about a year commanding a nine-man team as a combat adviser to Afghan security forces in remote parts of the country.
“I came home a different man and believed I could do more,” said Smith, whose decorations include the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Smith said he is “running because I want South Carolina to realize her fullest potential and, to do that, I know that means no one gets left behind.”
Smith is unlikely to face any serious opposition for the Democratic nomination.
He won his first term to the S.C. House of Representatives in 1996. Since then, he has represented the district that includes downtown Columbia and parts of the Shandon neighborhood.
However, to win in November 2018, Smith faces a stiff uphill climb. A Democrat has not been elected governor of South Carolina since 1998. Republicans hold every statewide-elected office, and majorities in the S.C. House and state Senate.
He also is likely to be outspent. In 2014, incumbent Republican Gov. Nikki Haley spent $8.4 million to win re-election, crushing Democratic challenger state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, who raised less than $5 million.
As of June 30, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster of Columbia already had raised almost $1.8 million. His top challenger — Charleston attorney and former Haley Cabinet member Catherine Templeton — had raised almost $1.5 million.
Two other Republicans — Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson and Yancey McGill of Williamsburg — also are running for governor.
Election 2018 – S.C. Governor
Democratic state Rep. James Smith of Richland announced he’s running for governor, becoming the first to seek his party’s nomination.
Family: Married to Kirkland Smith of Mount Pleasant; four children
Hometown: Born and raised in Columbia
Political experience: S.C. House of Representatives, 1997 to present
Other experience: Attorney, managing partner, James E. Smith, Jr., P.A., and president and chief executive officer of The Congaree Group, LLC; U.S. Army Reserve, 1996-1998; S.C. Army National Guard, 1998-present; Deployed to Afghanistan February 2007 to May 2008