Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Southern Democrats Campaign as 'Problem Solvers'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Southern Democrats Campaign as 'Problem Solvers'

Article excerpt

COLUMBIA, S.C. --

As Democrats try to curtail GOP dominance in the South, the party's top recruits for 2014 elections are trying to sell themselves as problem solvers above Washington's partisan gridlock.

They're casting the Republicans' anti-government mantra and emphasis on social issues like abortion and gay marriage as ideological obstacles to progress on "bread-and-butter" issues like public education, infrastructure and health care.

That goes beyond their usual effort to distance themselves from President Barack Obama and national Democrats, and it's the closest thing the Democratic Party has to a unified strategy in the region beyond simply waiting for demographics to shift in the long term to ensure they can compete with Republicans.

Minority growth in North Carolina and Virginia, and the influx of whites who aren't native Southerners, has heralded Democratic victories in recent years, and Democrats want to make similar inroads in changing states like South Carolina and Georgia.

So Democratic candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate hope to hasten the transition away from Republican rule by emphasizing their own Southern roots and focusing on local issues and outcomes.

"I am a lifelong resident of a small town in South Carolina who is disgusted with Washington," said Vincent Sheheen, who will make his second run against Gov. Nikki Haley.

"Nikki Haley wants this race to be about national politics," the attorney and state senator said recently. "I'm the person who's independent, not driven by talking points from a national party that wants to nationalize everything with ideology. That doesn't solve practical issues that affect people's lives."

Ms. Haley, who consistently frames Mr. Obama's policies as out of step with South Carolina, is trying to tie Mr. Sheheen closely to the Democratic Party, particularly for advocating that South Carolina accept Medicaid insurance expansion under Mr. Obama's health care overhaul.

Mr. Sheheen sees his position differently: "I've made a very practical decision: Oppose Washington when it's not in South Carolina's best interest but cooperate with any level of government when it is, regardless of party politics. …

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