By Rudolph Bell
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen said Thursday he is focusing more on the GOP-leaning Upstate than other Democrats have in the past and expects the election to be decided by a narrow margin, but Republican Nikki Haley's campaign said her message and agenda are more in line with voters along the Interstate 85 corridor.
Campaigning in Greenville and Spartanburg 33 days before the election, Sheheen said Democrats "tend to ignore the Upstate, and I think that's a huge mistake."
The state senator from Camden said he represents "a very Republican and conservative district, so I feel quite at home in a community like this area, Greenville."
Sheheen told The Greenville News he doesn't put much credence in a poll released last week by Rasmussen Reports, which gave Haley a 17-point lead, and he believes the real distance between the candidates is much shorter.
"It's not  points, but there is a gap," Sheheen said. "The only way to close that gap is for people to know who the real Nikki Haley is and who the real Vincent Sheheen is."
He declined to discuss his campaign's internal polling and vowed to mount an aggressive campaign on the road and on the airwaves in the final weeks.
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said voters have a clear choice between her "conservative reform agenda" and Sheheen's "status quo, liberal, trial-lawyer agenda."
"In the Upstate, as is true across South Carolina, we're confident that Nikki's message and agenda will remain far more in line with where the voters are," Godfrey said.
Sheheen estimated that he has been to Greenville more than 20 times since he became his party's nominee in June.
"And I would tell you that reaction has been very, very positive to me being up here," he said.
"The business community has been extremely supportive, much more so than I would ever have imagined, and people are generally very supportive."
Sheheen began the Upstate swing in Spartanburg, where he called for a governor "who once again cares about higher education" during a rally at the University of South Carolina Upstate.
Several hundred supporters gathered on the Quad to hear him, including former Democratic congresswoman Liz Patterson of Spartanburg and Brittany Tolbert, a 21-year-old elementary education student from his hometown of Camden.
Later in Greenville, Sheheen toured the Adex Machining Technologies plant on Feaster Road, where he spoke privately with Clemens Schmitz-Justen, the former president of BMW Manufacturing Co. in Greer.
Sheheen concluded his visit at the Carolina First Center with remarks at a dinner for the Greenville Tech Foundation, where the attendees included former Democratic Lt. Gov. Nick Theodore of Greenville.