Not many political candidates choose to kick off their campaigns at a funeral parlor. For Democrat John King, the choice was a natural.
King, owner of King Funeral Home in downtown Rock Hill, formally launched his bid Friday for the state House seat being vacated by Bessie Moody-Lawrence, telling supporters he intends to make the fight against payday lenders one of his top priorities.
"Payday lending has taken advantage of people," he said later. "It cripples our community. It's like a reoccurring cycle. I would like to eliminate it completely, just like North Carolina has done."
King nearly won the District 49 seat two years ago. He lost to Moody-Lawrence by nine votes and essentially never stopped running. This time, King faces a primary challenge from fellow Democrat Montrio Belton, a middle school principal who graduated from Winthrop University. Belton leads Monroe Middle School in Monroe, N.C., but says he will resign if elected.
Critics accuse payday lenders of preying on the poor by charging exorbitant interest rates. Legislation to curb the practice in South Carolina was proposed but did not pass last year. Lenders contend they serve customers who have no other options for quick cash.
At Friday's campaign kickoff, King picked up endorsements from state Rep. Leon Howard of Columbia, chairman of the state's Legislative Black Caucus, Rep. Joe Neal of Hopkins and York Mayor Eddie Lee, who worked with King's mother at Winthrop.
"Endorsements can't vote," countered Belton. "The people vote. I'm focusing on getting to know the people and the people getting to know me. What's important is what the people want."
Republican candidate awaits
The winner likely will face off in the general election against Republican Marvin Rogers, who moved here a year ago from Greenville, where he worked in the district office of U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis.
Rogers is trying to play down party affiliations, asking voters to look beyond partisan labels. The southern York County district has long been considered a Democratic stronghold.
"I don't view my campaign as a run against another candidate as much as I see it as a run for the hopes, aspirations and upward mobility of the people in District 49," Rogers said.
Republicans believe they can make gains by appealing to suburban-minded newcomers in subdivisions going up around S.C. 901, close to Interstate 77.
Moody-Lawrence, a state representative since 1993, has signaled she doesn't intend to make an endorsement. She did not attend Friday's kickoff.