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Sheheen reflects on loss, looks to future

Posted: November 4, 2010 4:48 p.m.
Updated: November 5, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Thursday - 1111 Church St., Camden

Frustration.

The word’s inevitable in the conversation Thursday morning with Vincent Sheheen.

It’s a miserable day, weather wise. Vincent, though, isn’t at all miserable. He’s taking his defeat to Nikki Haley as well as anyone can expect, probably better. He’s working at his law office, and he’s got a trip to the mountains with his wife coming up.

The 18-month campaign helped put things in perspective for Sheheen. He has always adored Camden, and appreciated the opportunities it has presented him. But he appreciates it even more now, he says.

Back to that word -- frustration. What’s so frustrating for Sheheen is that he ran a near-flawless campaign, and it wasn’t enough.

To say he ran a seamless campaign is backed by the numbers.

Look down the ballot -- Republicans Ken Ard, Mark Hammond and Richard Eckstrom won their races by more than 10 percentage points. Mick Zais and Alan Wilson won their races by eight and nine points, respectively.

Democrats were pummeled across the state. More broadly, Democrats were hammered across the nation.

Sheheen, though, lost by less than five percentage points, or approximately 60,000 votes, in a Red state in the year of anti-Obama sentiment.

Sheheen was endorsed by nearly every daily newspaper in the state, as well as the state Chamber of Commerce.

Is there anything Sheheen could’ve done differently to win the race?

“If I’d have run this race a year ago, I’d have won by three or four points,” Sheheen said. “All politics are national; it’s the exact opposite as it used to be.”

Reflecting on the whirlwind that was his life for the last year and a half, Sheheen said he was pleased to see the reception he received from the people of South Carolina, whether in Republican or Democratic territory.

“I don’t care where I went, people were really nice and decent to me,” he said.

Tuesday night - 701 Whaley Street, Columbia

The crowd was -- and had been for at least an hour -- waiting for and wondering when he would stroll in.

He finally showed his face about 40 minutes before midnight with family, friends and staff.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” began Vincent from the podium. “It was close -- oh, oh, so close. And we saw that glimmer … and one day that glimmer will grow, and that glimmer will burn and get even brighter.

“It was a wonderful, wonderful experience, and I have no regrets. At the end of the day, I can honestly say that we fought the good fight.”

On stage with Sheheen, in addition to his family, were S.C. Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, Rep. Bakari Sellers of Orangeburg, and his fellow Kershaw County delegate, Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk.

“All I can say is that I’m incredibly proud of Vincent,” said Funderburk. “This campaign worked so hard… Vincent has been a wonderful senator for Kershaw County and he would’ve been a great governor for South Carolina.”

Faces from Kershaw County were seen with every turn of the head.

With a look of disappointment and a touch of exhaustion, Matt Irick, who graduated from Camden High School with Sheheen in 1989, encouraged Sheheen to keep moving forward.

“He needs to continue to lead, and do things the right way,” said Irick, who sits on the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees.

Stephen Smoak, the Kershaw County Councilman who’s a partner at Sheheen’s law firm, was in attendance in Columbia after getting word of his own victory in Kershaw County, as was Mayor Jeffrey Graham of Camden.

“He worked hard, and he made the people of Camden and Kershaw County proud, win or lose,” said Graham. “We’re lucky to have Vincent Sheheen as our senator.”

The Future

Sheheen now possesses a new sense of relaxation. Going to work will be relaxing, in a way. Anything of a consistent, predictable schedule will be relaxing.

“I worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week for months and months and months,” said Sheheen. “I’m relaxing right now -- I don’t have to go anywhere.”

Sheheen thanked the people of Kershaw County for being patient because “their senator wasn’t here, like he normally is.”

The 39-year-old with political roots said he saw the campaign, from the outset, as a no-lose.

“Either I was going to be the governor, or I was going to come back and have more time for a wonderful life with my great family,” Sheheen said.

Not unexpectedly, Sheheen isn’t commenting on a future gubernatorial run.

“I’m planning on running for the re-election for the Senate in two years,” Sheheen said. “I don’t have plans beyond that… I didn’t plan on running for governor.”

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