York County Democrats: Where was state support for Congressional candidate Joyce Knott?

jself@heraldonline.comNovember 3, 2012 

The chairperson of the York County Democratic Party and the Democratic candidate for South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District criticized this week the S.C. Democratic Party for a lack of support.

Rock Hill’s Joyce Knott, the party’s challenger to U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, said Wednesday she’d reached out to state party leaders, but there was “not much reaching back.”

“It’s a disappointment,” said Pat Calkins, chair of the York County Democratic Party.

“The support we needed from the state party has not been there,” she said.

Knott, a Rock Hill resident and small business owner who campaigned for former Congressman John Spratt, served on a committee to find a candidate to run against Mulvaney.

With no one stepping up, Knott eventually volunteered herself. But her campaign has struggled with Knott acting as campaign manager and candidate. Knott has characterized her own fundraising efforts as a failure.

Calkins said the state party leaders “contacted a number of distinguished men,” hoping they’d run, but did not vet many “talented women.”

With support Knott could have been a competitive candidate, she said.

Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party, asked, “Who are those talented women?”

When Knott announced her candidacy – surprising many, she said – Harpootlian applauded her for running.

But he also criticized area high-profile Democrats who he’d contacted about running for not stepping up, calling them “complacent” and “resistant to putting themselves into the fight.”

Harpootlian said Thursday he “didn’t think (Knott) was the strongest candidate” at the time. “If she wins, God bless her.”

Harpootlian said Knott didn’t ask him for support.

Gloria Tinubu, candidate for the newly formed 7th Congressional District, reached out to him personally, and he gave her $2,500 – his own money, not the party’s, he said.

“I don’t just write checks,” he said.

The 7th District is the only race that received help from the state party, and that was to support a staff member working in the district, he said. The state party mostly supports state legislative races, which require less money and are races the party feels it can win.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is the body that supports House races, Harpootlian said. With their support, the 5th District could have been competitive, he said, but the committee didn’t place its focus there.

“In terms of taking back the majority of the (U.S.) House we’re not on the radar,” he said.

Karen Kedrowski, chairperson of political science at Winthrop University, said political parties base their decision to support races on polling and conversations they have with candidates. Their support often goes where they think they can win. Not supporting Knott’s race was a strategic political decision, she said.

“I don’t think Joyce has been taken seriously as a candidate, but I think it has way more to do with her overall lack of experience,” Kedrowski said.

“She’s an unknown, had never run for office, had to build a grass-roots network,” and was “reluctant to fundraise.”

Few big checks

Mulvaney has raised $725,800 in this election cycle. Since July, he has raised nearly $186,000, about half from corporations and political action committees, and has spent nearly $269,000.

Knott has raised more than $25,500 since February around the time she announced her candidacy.

Knott has received some support from elsewhere in the 5th District, but most of her contributors are Rock Hill and York County Democrats, including Spratt, whose 28-year service in Congress ended with Mulvaney’s 2010 victory.

But despite having only a few big checks, Calkins and Knott say they’ve built a good campaign with the resources they have.

Calkins estimates that about 250 people have been involved in the campaign through donating, knocking on doors or making calls.

The party has tried to get supporters to the debates as well.

Calkins called it an oversight when fewer than 10 people showed up to hear Knott speak at a Winthrop University forum. Organizers said the weather likely contributed to the thin crowd at the 7 p.m. event. Calkins said the event was mostly for students.

While Knott delivered her prepared speech in a theater at the DiGiorgio Campus Center, the Winthrop University College Democrats were meeting elsewhere in the same building, unaware she was speaking, according to the group’s president, Tyler Calloway, a senior business administration major.

Mulvaney also had a small group show up at his similar appearance Thursday morning at Winthrop.

Knott said she’ll spend Election Day traveling the district, trying to see as many people as she can. She’s hopeful that her message is spreading by word of mouth, if not through expensive campaign ads.

“The people of the 5th District will lift me up.”

Jamie Self 803-329-4062

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