Elections Central: Race for the Senate in South Carolina

Senator Tim Scott (R-NC) is the first African American Senator to represent a state in the South since the Reconstruction era.  He’s also not the only person of color running for his Senate seat this November. Democratic challenger Pastor Thomas Dixon argues Scott is out of touch with the issues that matter to South Carolinians. What issues matter in this Senate race? Who are these two candidates and what are their stories? Equally important, as men of color how do these candidates plan on solving issues that matter not only to white voters, who make up 68% of South Carolinians, but also voters of color, who make up the rest?

Values: According to a poll conducted by PBS earlier this year, about 75% of voters described themselves as born-again Christians and about half of all voters said it mattered a great deal that their representative shares their religious beliefs.  Both candidates have a strong religious background: Democratic candidate Thomas Dixon is a pastor and incumbent Senator Tim Scott is a devout evangelical Christian. 

Conservative candidates also do well with South Carolinian voters. In both houses of Congress only one representative from South Carolina, Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-SC 6th District), is a Democrat. The recent shootings in Charleston have put combating terrorism at the top of issues of interest for constituents. Pastor Dixon is advocating for stronger gun laws, raising the minimum wage, is pro-choice, and promotes the expansion of Obamacare.  Senator Tim Scott has is a member of the NRA,  opposes an increase to the federal minimum wage, is pro-life,  and advocates to repeal Obamacare.

The African American community, which makes up 27.6% of South Carolinians, is largely interested in progress in the realms of civil rights, long-term unemployment, and reductions in poverty.  Pastor Thomas’s platform includes reforming the criminal justice system, promoting bargaining power for equal work, protecting voting rights, and finding solutions for homelessness. Senator Tim Scott is pursuing goals outlined in his “Opportunity Agenda."  This agenda promotes investing in distressed communities, allowing parents to choose where to spend federal IDEA dollars, providing incentives for apprenticeships, and includes the approved SKILLS Act, renamed the Workforce Investment Act (WIOA). Currently more than 30% of South Carolina’s population, or 1.4 million people, live in an economically distressed area. Nationwide, that number increases to 50 million Americans.

The Candidates: Senator Tim Scott was born into poverty, and his mother raised him as a single parent. He had a tough time in high school and flunked his classes. He went to college on a partial football scholarship and later found a mentor in entrepreneur John Moniz. He started his own business by following “basic Biblical business principles,” and was later elected as a Charleston County Councilman, where he served from 1999-2009. He was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives and served from 2009 until his election to the United States House of Representatives in 2011. He served in the House of Representatives until his appointment (and later election) to the United States Senate in 2013, and is the incumbent candidate for his Senate seat in the election this November 2016.

Born and raised in the Chicago projects, Pastor Thomas Dixon started using and selling drugs around the age of 15. He joined the Navy in 1983 and moved to South Carolina with his wife, Vanessa, in 1985. His life’s work has revolved around tackling issues of social justice. He worked with several community social justice organizations including Healthcare Workers United, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Gun Sense SC.  Later he founded and was the pastor for the Summerville Christian Fellowship and served as Chairman of the South Carolina Crime Reduction Coalition, where “he worked with judges, law enforcement officials, educators and community leaders” to explore ways to reduce recidivism.  In 2012 he founded “The Coalition—People United to Take Back Our Community,” which is a grassroots organization that addresses crime, violence, and other larger issues of social justice. He is the Democratic challenger to incumbent Senator Scott in the election this November 2016.

Who will you choose, South Carolina?

“Scott is expected to retain his seat by a wide margin against Democrat and newcomer Thomas Dixon this fall.”  Polling from Polimedia shows Tim Scott has a 45/28 approval rating over Thomas Dixon. 

Why is that? That same poling station showed that a large share of South Carolinians support background checks on all gun purchases, increasing the minimum wage, and a 53/25 support for legislation that protects members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination. If the larger voting base in South Carolina feels this way, shouldn’t Pastor Dixon be a bigger threat to Senator Scott? Granted, these polls are just a taste of how people feel, as any poll is. At a minimum it forces us to question our values and the platforms and voting histories of our candidates. Keep an eye out on the polls, and stay informed come November.