By Robert Behre
Democrat Vincent Sheheen sees a clear contrast between his vision for the state and that offered by his Republican opponent.
And he hopes voters think that when they step into the voting booth on Nov. 2.
"The biggest issue by far is electing a governor that we can trust again, that will not embarrass the state," he said. "That's because of the last eight years, with our statewide elected officials basically scandalizing the state and being an embarrassment to the state."
The mild-mannered, soft-spoken lawyer from a well-known Camden political family has been increasingly critical of Republican Nikki Haley, mainly her record of paying taxes late, personally and for a family business for which she has done accounting work.
Sheheen said an equally important issue is the next governor's ability to create jobs, an issue he sees intertwined with the future health of the state.
"We're not going to be successful with funding our public schools, meeting our core obligations to state government, with having a successful state, unless our people are working, so the next governor absolutely has to make job creation a top priority."
Sheheen reveals his bipartisan mind-set by praising former Democratic Gov. Fritz Hollings and former Republican Gov. Carroll Campbell for their work in luring business to the state. Sheheen's uncle Bob Sheheen served as S.C. Speaker of the House during Campbell's two terms.
One of Vincent Sheheen's main points is his assertion that he can do a better of job unifying the state, particularly relations between the governor and Legislature, which often frayed under Gov. Mark Sanford.
While Sheheen is a Democrat, his Senate district just east of Columbia is considered GOP turf.
Sheheen said the other major issue is supporting the state's public schools "and concentrating on the classrooms for improvement."
He said the most overlooked issue in the race is how state government has become more dysfunctional because of a lack of leadership.
"No. 1, we've had no real leadership from the executive branch, so agencies tended to spin out of control, and No. 2, the Legislature has not exercised review and oversight like it should," he said. "I don't think that issue has gotten a lot of attention because it's not that glamorous."
On the campaign trail, Sheheen is more likely to talk about policy and issues and less likely to talk about his life story.
His family's roots in Camden go back more than a century, and his ancestors have been elected mayor, chairman of Kershaw County Council, state representative and executive director of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education.
He savors the small-town life enough that he insisted on keeping his campaign headquarters in Camden, where he has kept chickens in his backyard and often drops his children off at the same public schools he attended.
Sheheen said the most difficult aspect to the gubernatorial race is having to raise money, though his success at doing so helped him win the three-way Democratic primary outright in June.
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He does agree with Haley on at least one point: That South Carolina voters don't seem particularly interested in the historic nature of their race, specifically in the possibility that they may elect him as the state's first Catholic governor or her as its first woman and nonwhite governor.
"Honestly," he said, "people are more focused on the crisis that is going on in South Carolina, the crisis of trust, the crisis of unemployment."
Sheheen said he has received a lot of advice about his campaign, but he remembers what former Democratic Gov. Dick Riley told him. "He told me the key to success in the governor's race was outworking your opponent," Sheheen said.
To that end, Sheheen has been on the road nearly every day, crisscrossing the state to appear at fundraisers, rallies, party functions, news conference and other events.