By Dave Munday
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen stood among the busts of famous people in Pinewood Preparatory School's Liberty Garden and looked out over an audience of 70 who came to greet him Sunday.
Just 10 days before the election, it all came down to those who have not yet decided, he said.
"I started this campaign 20 points down (against Republican Nikki Haley)," he said. "Now it's a virtual dead heat, with the undecideds making the difference."
Sheheen promised he would help restore the state's reputation as more than a butt of jokes.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result," he said. "For the last eight years we've had bickering, division and scandal like we've never had before. This election in a very big way has to be about putting that past behind us ... and restoring our reputation around the country."
Sheheen reminded the audience that South Carolina, which now has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, had one of the lowest in the 1990s. That was because of the leadership of men like former Govs. Carroll Campbell and Richard Riley and former Sen. Fritz Hollings -- not all Democrats, he said.
"Without a vision, the people perish," Sheheen said, quoting the biblical book of Proverbs. "That's what has happened to South Carolina."
He cited several of the scandals that have kept the state in the national news. Business leaders around the state tell him they're worried that reputation is hindering their opportunities.
"This election is not about moving the state to left or right but moving the state forward," he said.
Two other Democratic candidates also spoke at Pinewood on Sunday. They were Ashley Cooper, who is running for lieutenant governor, and Robert Barber, who is running for comptroller general.
Democratic attorney general candidate Matthew Richardson was on the program but couldn't make it because of a commitment in Barnwell, organizers said.
Republican candidates also were invited for a separate appearance but have not accepted the invitation, according to Johnny Linton, an attorney and former Pinewood board member.
Cooper grew up in Charleston, and his grandfather started Southeastern Galleries here. Cooper also referenced the scandals that have marked Columbia politics the past several years.
"With your help, we're going to put South Carolina on the news for all the right reasons," he said.
Barber grew up in Columbia but owns Bowen's Island Restaurant near Folly Beach and has children in Summerville.
He promised more transparency in the comptroller general's office, which oversees state spending.
"Too many people in Columbia have lost touch with what's going on," he said.