A hundred days from the November election, York County’s campaign trail lulls on through summer. But candidates’ campaign coffers give insight into how prepared they’ll be when the races snap back into action after Labor Day.
York County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell has raised the most of any local candidate in an official contested race in November, reporting $19,875 in campaign contributions for this election cycle and $9,226 still on hand, according to his most recent campaign finance records filed with the S.C. Ethics Commission.
“I feel fortunate,” Blackwell said Friday. “I really appreciate the people who have come to my aid financially.”
Rock Hill businessman Gary Williams is challenging Blackwell, an eye doctor, for the county’s District 6 seat representing northern Rock Hill and Newport.
Now a petition candidate, Williams filed earlier this year to run as a Republican for the seat but was removed from June’s primary ballot along with more than 200 other candidates after the S.C. Supreme Court ruled they didn’t file their paperwork properly.
The setback wasn’t so bad, Williams said.
“Things are going real positively,” Williams said of his campaign Friday. “The petition candidacy built a lot of interest in the issues. People are a lot more engaged than they were.”
Williams reported raising $8,723, more than a third of that from mid-April through May. Giving himself a boost, Williams loaned his campaign $12,500. He has $5,772 on hand.
He said he’s not asking for contributions.
“If people donate to me that’s fine,” he said. “I haven’t done any solicitation, no letters. These are all people who would like to see me elected and support the campaign.”
Williams said he anticipates a “different” kind of race moving into November, not necessarily a “costly” one. While he isn’t sure what to expect, he doesn’t think it will be about “how much money you spend – it’s about getting support from the voters,” he said.
Blackwell, also unfazed by the balance of his campaign coffers, had a similar reaction.
“Money won’t win this election,” said Blackwell, who is completing his first term on the council. “It’s going to be based on how I served the citizens of York County.”
In June, Blackwell reported only a single contribution of $25. He attributed the smaller amount to his putting campaign efforts “on the back burner” in recent weeks to enjoy the summer.
While both downplayed the importance of fundraising, Blackwell and Williams rank high among spenders in York County’s races, with Blackwell spending $12,771 and Williams, $15,501.
Outside of Williams and Blackwell, no York County Council candidates have grown their campaign accounts beyond $9,000, even with personal loans, according to the candidates most recent filings with the state.
Having cash on hand heading toward November will help candidates when the campaigns pick back up after Labor Day, said Rick Whisonant, a political science instructor at York Technical College.
A campaign’s appearance of fiscal health is also important, he said.
“The ability to raise money brings credibility to a campaign,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, that’s American politics.”
Another candidate with five-digit expenses is Raye Felder, a petition candidate for the state’s new House District 26 in Fort Mill.
Felder, who also was removed from the GOP primary ballot because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, raised $4,363. She also loaned herself $15,005 and spent $15,733 on her campaign, which existed only in theory until recently, when she became the first state House petition candidate certified for the ballot.
With $3,634 in the bank, Felder expects to start campaigning and fundraising soon.
Expenses exceeding contributions is “always a concern,” she said, “but I knew going into this I was going to have a personal investment in this. I can’t say that I was not prepared for that.”
She said something positive came out of her petition campaign. Her time has been focused on meeting people, going door-to-door and collecting signatures to get on the ballot.
Educating voters that she will appear on the ballot as a petition candidate, and not a Republican, will be where she focuses her efforts moving forward.
Petition candidates will need “a lot of mass mailings” and other strategies to teach voters about their campaigns, Whisonant said. “They’re going to have to spend some money for sure.”
Felder’s Libertarian opponent, Jeremy Walters, took a vastly different approach to the challenge ahead.
Walters, of Fort Mill, whose most recent report showed $1,370 in contributions and $135 in expenses, said he doesn’t plan on soliciting for money.
Instead he said he will go door-to-door to ask for votes, which is similar to how he drums up residential construction business for himself.
“It’s what I do for a living – meet people.”
Walters acknowledged he will need money, but isn’t worried about it right now, when it’s summertime and people want to be left alone.
“I just believe that it will be there when I need it.”
One race in York County is still unconfirmed.
York resident and local tea party activist Joe Thompsonis waiting to see whether the state Election Commission will add his name as a petition candidate for state Senate District 15, currently held by Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill.
A York resident and manager of a Clover retail business, Thompson only recently announced his campaign and hasn’t filed any financial reports, according to the state Ethics Commission website.
Should Thompson be certified, Hayes, a Rock Hill attorney who’s held the seat since 1991, has more than $70,000 cash on hand for his campaign effort.
Jamie Self 803-329-4062