A man running for the South Carolina U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, who is retiring, says he's the first openly gay candidate for that office. Democrat Marcus Belk formally announced his candidacy Thursday in Columbia. Belk says South Carolinians should have no problem with his sexual orientation. "I'm just being forthright with the voters in saying why I do not have a wife," the 30-year-old Camden native said. "The critical issue is that we all, no matter our walk in life, are in this together against this major economic crisis. It doesn't matter what race or religion or such you are."
While other candidates expect to spend as much as $8 million each on the campaign, Belk says he'll put about $500,000 into his effort. "Most of the other candidates are going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars listening to their pollsters and going to the malls for makeovers," he said. "I don't need that amount of money to be competitive." His platform includes calling for a new state constitution, eliminating local school districts, combining small, poor counties into larger ones, eliminating income taxes and the Internal Revenue Service, and raising worker wages by dismantling right-to-work laws.
Political pundits are saying, however, that South Carolina voters probably aren't ready for a gay U.S. Senate candidate. "The cacophony of the debate about the homosexuality would drown out the discussion about the issues," said Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon. Adds Furman University political science professor Jim Guth: "I don't think it helps him. Even in the Democratic Party it's going to be something of a liability."