FORT MILL — One candidate for the S.C. House District 26 seat says she’s not running against anyone for re-election, but rather for the opportunity to serve her constituency.
Her opponent says he’s “going up against the political machine” for the position.
Incumbent Rep. Raye Felder (R-Fort Mill) and challenger Jeremy Walters (L-Fort Mill), are facing each other in a rematch of their 2012 campagins for the House seat, which covers the majority of Fort Mill. Neither are facing primary opposition in May and will be on the ballot in November. There are no Democrats running for the seat.
Felder and Walters clashed in the first election held after District 26 was created in a re-drawing of S.C. Legislature lines following the 2010 U.S. Census.
In the last race, Felder, like 200 other S.C. candidates in 2012, was removed from the ballot as a GOP candidate due to an obscure filing error and was forced to run on a petition tag. Walters, among the candidates who filed properly in that race, was nominated by the Libertarian party.
This time, Felder expects to have the backing of the Republican party brand in her bid for a second two-year term. Meanwhile, Walters says he feels emboldened by the spirited 2012 race, when he fell just 656 votes short of making South Carolina the fourth state in the country to elect a Libertarian to a state legislature. The race was too close to call hours after the polls closed in that election.
“I learned so much,” Walters, a self-employed carpenter, said last week. “You look back on it and say ‘Oh, if I had spoke one more time,’ but I learned a lot of the tricks and learned to think like my opponents and almost be ahead of them.”
This time two years ago, Felder and her campaign volunteers were knocking on doors to collect signatures on a petition to put Felder on the ballot. Felder, who sold her Fort Mill Allstate insurance business before entering the race, says she wants to continue raising District 26’s profile in Columbia.
“I’ve enjoyed making an impact and a difference, to remind Columbia that York County is South Carolina,” she said. “We’ve done so much to take care of ourselves, with strong local representation and schools, that I think having a constant conversation is very important to keep us on the radar.”
Felder said last week that her state office is much like her position at Allstate “as a ‘middle man’” between the people and Columbia lawmakers. If elected for a second term, she vows to continue funding infrastructure and transportation needs in York County.
“We have no mass public transportation, so we all use these roads,” she said. “I hear all the time, ‘I want that pothole fixed’ or ‘I damaged my rims.’ Without a proper recurring funding stream, you can’t get (the roads) on a good maintenance schedule.”
Walters, a carpenter from upstate New York who’s lived in Fort Mill since 1991, said he’s running again to give District 26 a voice outside of the Republican or Democratic parties. He said the parties have become a “tyranny” in the state legislature.
Voters have become jaded to those parties, according to Walters, which makes him confident that he can parlay the positive feedback from his 2012 loss into a victory for the Libertarian party.
“I believe we need to take this country back,” he said. “The representatives represent their own agenda and no longer care about us. If it’s one guy that gets elected and blazes a trail, then I’m the guinea pig, because if I win, another comes down the road.”
Walters initially announced he wanted to run on the Republican ticket in 2012, but he says GOP leadership discouraged him from running. After seeking the Libertarian nod, he was nominated unanimously.
Walters ran no radio, television or newspaper ads, but decided to spread his message through social media and door-to-door visits throughout the community. Although Felder out-spent Walters by a wide margin – she received more than $36,000 in donations compared to $4,620 for Walters – Walters said he’s learned how to “survive” in a tense election race.
“First, you laughed at me, then you ignored me, then you fought me, then you lost,” Walters said of his Republican opponents. “I really think there’s a strong chance of winning this.”
Dr. Scott Huffmon, a political science professor at Winthrop University, said Walters faces even more of an uphill battle than he saw in 2012. Huffmon believes that Felder will likely win the majority of straight party ticket voters who align with the Republicans. It’s an institutional hurdle, according to Huffmon, which makes it harder for third parties to be effective in largely bipartisan elections.
“Before (Walters) even tells people his name, his first hurdle is the people who may not even know Raye Felder,” Huffmon said, “but they’ve already made their party attachments and they’ll typically go straight party ticket.”
Although Felder can accept Republican backing, as well as hold her strong ties to the community, she said this race is by no means easier to win than in 2012. A challenge is always a challenge, she said, but now she’ll be able to listen to the concerns of her constituents rather than check signatures on a petition.
“A government that governs best is closest to the people,” she said. “When you have Columbia or any government that imposes restrictions or makes codes and enforcements, they’re making those decisions on the information they’re given. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to make an impact and a difference.”