When six-term South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis trailed challenger Trey Gowdy in the 4th Congressional District’s GOP primary earlier this month, the results caused a political tidal wave with national implications.
Now fighting desperately for his political life in the June 22 run-off, Inglis could easily become a poster child for incumbent conservative lawmakers who cast just a handful of “bad” (non-conservative) votes.
“Bob had a very good record in the House [lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 93.45%], but in voting for a few bad things such as the TARP money to bailout failing industries, he upset his base tremendously,” one constituent of Inglis and a longtime GOP activist in the 4th District (Greenville-Spartanburg) said the day after the primary. “And when he became one of the seven Republicans to vote to rebuke [fellow South Carolina GOP Rep.] Joe Wilson for shouting ‘You lie’ during [President] Obama’s address to Congress, that really got the based riled up!
“This year, the base cares less about the overall voting record and more about specific votes and actions. And they’re watching them closely,” the activist said.
One who agrees with that assessment is the Republican who topped Inglis by a margin of 39% to 27% and is now favored to beat him in the run-off.
“Yes, [Inglis] voted for TARP money, but it wasn’t just that,” Spartanburg-Cherokee County Prosecutor Trey Gowdy said in an interview with HUMAN EVENTS. “He voted against the Pledge Protection Act [to deny courts the rights to hear cases challenging the Pledge of Allegiance], voted against the troop surge in Iraq, and introduced a carbon-tax bill which he said was revenue neutral and would provide tax credits to businesses. That’s what the base cared about, and responded accordingly.”
Gowdy also believes that Inglis’s vote for the rebuke of Joe Wilson definitely hurt the incumbent with the grass roots. “My view is that when a man offers an apology, as Congressman Wilson does, and it is accepted [as White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel did on behalf of President Obama], that is the end of it. The Democrats in the House pursued this rebuke as a means of making a partisan issue out of it,” Gowdy said.
Would Gowdy, had he been in Congress, voted against the rebuke of Wilson?
“Yes—absolutely,” he replied without hesitation.
But How Republican Is He?
Having spent his adult life as a prosecutor—first as an assistant U.S. attorney and then as his county’s top lawman—Gowdy has never been in a position where he had to address issues other than those related to law enforcement until now.
As Gowdy goes into the runoff Tuesday as the favorite, rumors have sprung up that he was a secret Bill Clinton supporter and a contributor to Democrats in the Palmetto State.
“I never met Bill Clinton or [his Attorney General] Janet Reno,” Gowdy told me. “I did interview twice for a position with [Republican U.S. Attorneys] and was told to grow more gray hair. Then [Democrat] Pete Strom became U.S. Attorney and hired me to work for him in 1994. Becoming an assistant federal prosecutor was something I very much wanted to do and Pete gave me that opportunity.”
As for contributing to Democrats, Gowdy did say that, yes, he gave $1,000 to then-Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings in 1998—when Hollings’ Republican opponent was none other than Bob Inglis! And, in that same campaign, Gowdy gave $1,000 to Inglis as well.
“I gave Bob $1,000 and gave [Hollings] $1,000,” he said, adding “and that’s something [Inglis] is now reminding people of. What can I say? You do dumb things when you are younger.”
Asked whether he would be more like South Carolina’s senior GOP Sen. Lindsay Graham, who often irks conservatives with some non-conservative issue stands, or its junior Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who is increasingly an admired figure among conservatives nationwide, Gowdy said:
“Personally, I like Sen. Graham, and while I do disagree with some things he’s done, I agree, as a prosecutor, with his strong stand against permitting enemy combatants to be tried in civilian courts. But politically, I am closer to Sen. DeMint.”
Gowdy noted that while Graham has endorsed Inglis in the run-off, DeMint (who held the 4th District seat from 1998-04) is neutral in the contest Tuesday that involves his long time friend DeMint.
“And that tells you a lot, doesn’t it?” said Gowdy.