CONWAY — Democrat Gloria Bromell Tinubu is working to pull another surprise on Election Day in South Carolina’s new 7th Congressional District as she campaigns to become the first black woman in Congress from the state where the Civil War began.
Bromell Tinubu, 59 and a Coastal Carolina University professor, trounced the party establishment choice for the nomination, Myrtle Beach attorney Preston Brittain, in June.
In doing so, she collected nearly 18,000 votes, more than her Republican general election opponent Tom Rice did in his runoff win against former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.
“Because of that surprise, people are leaving themselves open for another surprise,” Bromell Tinubu said during a recent interview in her campaign office.
But a second surprise could be more difficult for Bromell Tinubu, a former Atlanta city councilwoman who also served in the Georgia Legislature before moving back to her native South Carolina last year.
Rice, the chairman of the Horry County Council, enjoys greater name recognition, deeper coffers and is a Republican running in the district, which is in the northeastern corner of the state.
“It’s a Republican-leaning district, and it’s true she got more votes than I did in the June primary, but there were more total Republican votes than there were Democratic votes,” said Rice, 55. “I like my position. We’re running scared, but we’re going to keep running hard.”
A recent Winthrop University poll found that 50 percent of likely voters favored Rice compared with 36 percent for Bromell Tinubu, with about 10 percent undecided.
The other 4 percent said they would vote for someone else or refused to answer.
And the latest Federal Election Commission filings show that Rice has spent nearly $700,000, more than twice as much as Bromell Tinubu. Of the money the Democrat has spent, $265,000 came from a personal loan. Rice has loaned his campaign $100,000. New campaign finance reports are due Monday.
Bromell Tinubu, who had a fundraiser Friday with state party leaders including former Gov. Jim Hodges and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, said she’s thought about the possibility of becoming the state’s first black congresswoman, “but I can get excited about that after Nov. 5.”
The new district reflects population growth in South Carolina in the 2010 census. Reaching from Myrtle Beach westward to Florence and north to the North Carolina state line, the economy is based on tourism along the shore and agriculture elsewhere. Myrtle Beach is the center of the state’s $15 billion tourism industry.
For Rice, the big issue is creating jobs.
“Horry and Georgetown counties decided years ago that tourism was going to be our thing. We didn’t do a good job of it, we did a great job of it,” he said. “Other areas of the district pursued agriculture. But the result is we have lower-paying service jobs, and we have to think diversification.”
Bromell Tinubu also said the economy is a main concern.
“This is a fairly challenged district, and seven out of the eight counties are persistently poor, and women and children tend to be the most impacted by poverty,” said Bromell Tinubu, who has a televised debate with her opponent on Wednesday.
David White, chairman of the Political Science Department at Francis Marion University in Florence, said while Bromell Tinubu’s primary win may not necessarily giver her general election momentum, “I think it shows she is not to be underestimated.”
But he added that because the district leans conservative, she’s the underdog.
“No doubt about it, she has an uphill battle,” he said.
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