In 2018, the last time Representative Joe Wilson (R-Springdale) faced opposition for his Second Congressional District seat, voters gave him a 14-percent margin of victory and a 10th term in Washington.
He had crushed his prior foes by at least 25 percentage points in two previous re-elections. Despite a much-satirized brush with infamy in 2009 — when he bellowed “You lie!” during a speech by President Obama to Congress — Rep. Wilson is seemingly invincible in the historically-conservative congressional district that includes Batesburg-Leesville and all of Lexington County (in addition to Aiken County, Barnwell County and parts of Richland and Orangeburg counties).
With 15 months still to pass until the 2020 general election, two would-be Democratic Party challengers already have said they want a crack at Joe Wilson.
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Adair Boroughs: First Woman To Face Wilson?
Rep. Wilson has never faced a female challenger in a general election since ascending to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002. Williston native Adair Ford Boroughs is making plans to become the first.
The last woman to appear on a District 2 ballot was Jane Frederick in 2000, who challenged longtime Republican congressman Floyd Spence and lost by 17 percentage points. Last year, attorney and writer Annabelle Robertson made a bid for the Democratic slot on the ticket but ultimately lost in a primary runoff to Sean Carrigan.
(Mr. Carrigan, a white male Army veteran from Chapin, carried northeast Richland County and the Orangeburg County precincts but garnered only 33 percent of the vote in Lexington County while losing to Rep. Wilson.)
So, even though two decades have passed since a woman was a Democratic Party nominee in this congressional district, and even after a political uprising that put 36 female Democratic newcomers in the House in 2018, Mrs. Boroughs knows she faces a daunting task against a deeply-entrenched Republican male in this part of South Carolina.
“I don’t do anything without doing my homework and being very prepared and working my butt off,” Mrs. Boroughs said in a telephone interview between continuing education coursework for her law practice. “I had a lot of conversations with a lot of people and a lot of time with the numbers making this decision. This was not an obstinate decision.”
The Boroughs for Congress campaign has been bolstered early by a huge fund-raising push. According to the latest reports from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), her camp has raised $245,669 for her war chest – a number that outstrips contributions to Rep. Wilson’s re-election campaign by almost $30,000.
“We knew we had to raise that kind of money to do well and be viable,” Mrs. Boroughs said. “I wasn’t going to get in it unless I was in it to win it. I felt confident that we could raise what we needed or I wouldn’t have gotten in. We’re really, really happy and excited for all the support we’ve gotten.”
Mrs. Boroughs held her first “official” campaign event two weeks ago in her hometown, a tiny hamlet just over the Aiken County line in Barnwell County. She hasn’t lived in Williston in years but said she remains a small-town girl at heart.
She graduated summa cum laude from Furman University, taught school in Greenville County, attended law school at Stanford University in California, and worked for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington. Nowadays, Mrs. Boroughs and her husband Bryan are raising their two daughters, ages 7 and 4, in the Forest Acres section of Columbia.
City life has been good to her, but she feels her small-town upbringing will inform her ability to serve her constituency if elected.
“This is where I was raised. These are my people,” she said. “So much of South Carolina – even if you’re not from a town quite as small as Williston – is small-town and those types of values. Those are the values I was raised with and have engrained in me. My people, my values.”
Mrs. Boroughs’ campaign biography states that her parents “raised her with a deep commitment to her Christian faith and family,” but she knows she will be challenged by conservatives who historically have laid claim to the terms “Christian” and “values” in talking about – and crafting policy about — such hot-button issues as abortion and same-sex marriage.
“The thing Jesus speaks most about is judging other people, and the thing He encouraged His followers to do the most is help other people,” she said. “People can see in my life, that’s what I’ve been about — helping other people.”
In 2013, Mrs. Boroughs moved back to South Carolina from Washington and worked as a law clerk on a number of cases, including United States v. Dylan Roof, the federal case against the convicted of killer of nine African-American worshipers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Later, she helped launch Charleston Legal Access, a nonprofit that assists middle-income people who don’t qualify for free legal services.
The three issues that Mrs. Boroughs hopes will resonate most with District 2 voters are (1) “making life more livable for working people” with income growth for middle-class families, she said; (2) veterans health care and mental health, a subject that is personal to Mrs. Boroughs because she said, “my twin brother is a veteran, and he has had his own struggles for over a decade with the [Veterans Administration],” and (3) tackling health care costs for all South Carolinians “because people are strapped,” she said.
Mrs. Boroughs knows she has a long road ahead of her through a region that since 1965 has invariably sent Republican men to Washington. So, does she really believe she has any chance of winning?
“Heck yeah, man,” she said, laughing. “This district has been trending away from Wilson for a little while now…There’s a lot of extreme partisanship in the country these days, but I do believe there are some basic values like hard work – which Wilson is not exhibiting – and getting things done for the people in the district.”
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Lawrence Nathaniel: Inspired by Grandmother
Voters in South Carolina have never sent an African American-Hispanic or an openly gay person to represent them in Congress. The youngest South Carolinian ever to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives was William Thompson Nuckolls, a 26-year-old disciple of Andrew Jackson back in 1827.
Lawrence Deshawn Nathaniel – black-Hispanic, age 25, gay and a one-time volunteer on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign – is marching on what he hopes will be a date with history on several fronts.
Mr. Nathaniel, born in New York but raised in Bamberg County by a single mother, announced last February his intention to challenge Rep. Wilson for the Second Congressional seat. The five months since his audacious (and some would argue, foolhardy) announcement have not been easy. Then again, it seems that not much in this young man’s life so far has been a walk in the park.
“I decided to run for Congress because in 2015, my grandmother passed away,” Mr. Nathaniel said, sitting under a picnic shelter before passing out leaflets in 94-degree heat at last weekend’s Lexington Community Fun Day. “She was rushed to Barnwell County Hospital, and when she got there, they basically didn’t have the proper tools to treat her brain aneurysm. They had to rush her from Barnwell on life support to Augusta, and she died on the way to the hospital.”
Mr. Nathaniel contends that the failure to expand Medicaid in rural areas led to millions of dollars in losses for the hospital, which closed in 2016, the year after his grandmother’s death. That personal tragedy is just one of many reasons, in fact, why he decided to run for office.
“Kids in my community – I’m running for them,” he said, looking around at the Fun Day activities for at-risk kids at a park in the shadow of the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, in a state where minority juveniles are 2.3 times more likely to be arrested than white juveniles according to a 2012 report by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.
“Everyone puts them down as a statistic, or puts them down as those who are not going to graduate, or those who are not going to become something in life – instead of giving them something to hope for,” he added.
To give voice to those without hope, Mr. Nathaniel is banking on his ability to energize enough of what he said are 32,000 unregistered potential voters in Lexington County, along with another 71,000 not registered in other sections of District 2.
“The Democratic Party does a great job of registering every year; they don’t do a good job of motivating,” he said. “They just need to be motivated and see that there are other candidates. Voters are tired of the Democratic Party running the same candidates over and over, and they’re tired of the Party picking our candidates for us.”
For Mr. Nathaniel, the “motivating” of unmotivated potential voters means taking his campaign into communities that previous candidates have written off, “uncomfortable locations, places that are untouched,” he said. “Nightclubs, libraries, high schools – getting young people involved.”
Health care and gun control are the two biggest issues facing people in South Carolina and across the country, he said.
Although his campaign has not yet raised even a fraction of Mrs. Boroughs’ war chest — according to FEC reports, he has claimed $0 raised so far – Mr. Nathaniel is hoping to mobilize 112 teams across the country to begin fundraising and canvassing. He eventually hopes to raise in excess of $350,000 to challenge the Wilson campaign.
To those who might argue that a 25-year-old minority candidate who is openly gay and a self-avowed “Democratic socialist” is simply unelectable in the Second Congressional District, Mr. Nathaniel has one answer.
“I can bring voters. I can mobilize voters,” he said. “For us, the ability is there, so we’re comfortable with what we can beat Joe Wilson with.”
Mr. Nathaniel is listed as founding president of an entity called the National Organization for Change (OFC), as well as other organizations that have polished websites and social media presences. The OFC’s website states that it was founded in 2016 and “fights for any cause, anytime, anywhere.”
His previous activism efforts have not been without criticism, even from others on the left.
In December 2017 stories on the Medium and the Daily Kos online magazines, fellow left-leaning activists questioned Mr. Nathaniel’s role in the cancellation of an announced March 2017 rally at the Mexican border in San Diego and in the sparsely-attended People’s March On Washington in January 2018.
The latter event did receive national television coverage on C-SPAN, where Mr. Nathaniel was shown delivering a fiery five-minute speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial surrounded by a small band of loyalists and a handful of journalists.
In spite of critics and naysayers, Mr. Nathaniel remains defiant in his bid – one of the two announced thus far by two very different Democrats – to challenge the Republican juggernaut that is Rep. Joe Wilson.
“I’m just a regular person out here trying to make a change in my community,” he said. “That’s what this community here needs. It just needs love.”
Story by Tony Baughman / Posted August 11, 2019