Politics & Government

Democrats launch TV attack on Sanford over stimulus

WASHINGTON — The national Democratic Party will launch a TV ad next week criticizing Gov. Mark Sanford for rejecting $700 million in economic stimulus money reserved for South Carolina.

Sanford, a Republican, on Wednesday became the first governor to turn down some of his state's stimulus funds, a move the GOP-controlled South Carolina General Assembly is expected to reverse. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, also a Republican, announced on Thursday that he also would turn down some of the stimulus money.

State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, a Florence Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced a measure Friday to allow state lawmakers to accept stimulus dollars despite Sanford's objections.

In another sign of public pressure on Sanford, 52 Democratic and Republican mayors from across South Carolina sent a letter to him and state legislators, asking them to accept the stimulus funds.

"We know better ... what our constituents need than the man in Columbia," said Folly Beach Mayor Carl Beckmann, a Republican.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, a Democrat warned of "draconian cuts" to education, public safety and other local services if the state doesn't receive all of its stimulus funds.

"There's not a town or city in South Carolina that would not be adversely affected if the (stimulus money) is turned down," Riley said.

General Assembly leaders from both parties have said they will do so, using a clause crafted by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn that authorizes state legislatures to act in place of governors who oppose using deficit spending to jolt the economy.

Joel Sawyer, Sanford's spokesman, said the governor opposes the massive increase in federal debt that the $787 billion stimulus package will cause.

"This so-called stimulus represents a federal predatory loan, the cost of which will be borne by future generations who will never have a chance to vote from office the very people who are saddling them with unprecedented spending and guaranteed future tax increases," Sawyer said.

The Democratic National Committee ad targeting Sanford will air for a week starting Monday. Most Midlands viewers will be able to see the 30-second spot -- already online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqTkk9t4sec -- via the Columbia affiliates of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel.

After ticking off South Carolina's growing economic ills -- "an economy in crisis ... record unemployment ... skyrocketing foreclosures" -- the narrator says, as the ad shows a home with a foreclosure sign and a shuttered loading dock, "South Carolina is facing tough times, but Governor Sanford is playing politics instead of doing what's right."

South Carolina has a 10.4 percent unemployment rate, the second highest in the country behind Michigan.

With photos of Clyburn and S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a Charleston Republican, on the screen, the narrator says "leading Democrats and Republicans oppose Sanford's move."

Displaying Sanford's phone number at the Capitol -- 803-734-2100 -- the ad ends by asking viewers to "tell Mark Sanford to stop playing politics with South Carolina's future."

Sanford is chairman of the Republican Governors Association. His opposition to the stimulus plan -- starting with a confrontation Dec. 1 with then-President-elect Barack Obama -- has raised his national profile and fed speculation that he's eyeing a 2012 White House run.

S.C. Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler, who has accused Sanford of neglecting his constituents while pursuing his political ambitions with national TV interviews, praised the DNC ad.

"This is the kind of media attention that Governor Sanford deserves," she said. "He has shown in recent months that he is more concerned with making the national news than he is with the fact that a lot of South Carolinians are really hurting."

South Carolina and its residents are slated to get up to $8 billion from the stimulus plan, including $2.5 billion in tax cuts, $1 billion in extra Medicaid payments and $463 million to build and repair roads and bridges.

Clyburn, the highest-ranking black member of Congress, suggested Friday that Sanford had compared Obama with vilified Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe in announcing his rejection of the stimulus money.

"What you're doing (with the stimulus plan) is buying into the notion that if we just print some more money that we don't have and send it to different states, we'll create jobs," Sanford said Wednesday. "If that's the case, why isn't Zimbabwe a rich place?"

Sanford earlier accused Clyburn of "playing the race card" when Clyburn said the governor's rejection of stimulus money was insulting to blacks.

Clyburn said Friday that unemployment among blacks "is 70 percent higher" than among whites.

"If comparing black unemployment with white unemployment is playing the race card, then certainly comparing this country with Zimbabwe ... that is playing the race card," he told MSNBC.

Clyburn added: "Is he comparing this president (Obama) with Mugabe? Would that be playing the race card?"

Sawyer said Clyburn is "quite good at playing the race card because he has no defense for the long-term economic consequences of this stimulus bill."

(Gina Smith of The State in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this account.)