COLUMBIA, S.C. – In a campaign ad, Senate candidate David Beasley (search) says he learned a lot after he lost his job as South Carolina governor.
Beasley met his downfall after changing his position on the Confederate flag (search) and state-run lottery and admitting that he made exaggerated statements, including far-fetched claims to high school students about his time in the 100-yard dash.
The Republican is now attempting a political comeback by running for the seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (search), but he finds himself on the defensive again after gaffes on the campaign trail this week.
"The pattern of behavior and exaggeration and flip-flops are the issues to me," his opponent, three-term Rep. Jim DeMint (search), said Thursday. "The ability to trust what we say as candidates is pretty important."
Beasley and DeMint were forced into a runoff for the GOP nomination Tuesday after neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in the June 8 primary.
The nominee will face Democratic Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum (search) in November. Republicans see the race as a chance to further solidify their majority in the Senate. Recent internal polls for both campaigns show the candidates are separated by only a few percentage points.
On Tuesday, Beasley said his unsuccessful re-election bid in 1998 taught him "the importance in priorities in life about family ... and doing what's right regardless of the political consequences."
"And you learn to be a little bit more humble. ... Hopefully I'm a little bit wiser and older," he said.
Then, during a debate that night, Beasley claimed the video poker industry — which he called "the crack cocaine of gambling" — spent as much as $30 million to defeat him in 1998.
Beasley lost the race after he attacked the video poker industry, called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome and changed his stance on the lottery.
"I don't think there is probably anybody in this country that has paid a higher price ... than I have when I took on the gambling issue in South Carolina," he said. "They spent 20 to 30 million dollars against me in my gubernatorial campaign."
However, independent analyses and Democrats who helped raise the cash to beat Beasley have said the video poker industry (search) spent about $3 million.
"It might have felt like 20 or 30 million dollars to him," said Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen. "I'd be surprised if it exceeded 3 to 4 million dollars."
When asked about the figure, Beasley stood by the numbers. "What we had heard and what I heard from the street talk of the gambling industry, they spent anywhere from 20 to 30 million dollars," he said.
Thigpen said the single incident itself isn't "anything real serious" and probably won't affect the vote Tuesday.
Still, it "contributes to the thrust of the DeMint campaign against Beasley," including ads that emphasize character and criticize Beasley as a "flip-flopper" and "wishy-washy," Thigpen said.
The ex-governor's remarks about the video poker spending were compounded by another gaffe in which he referred to a man in a Beasley ad as being out of work for two years. In fact, the man has been unemployed about two months, and Beasley corrected himself.
In 1995, Beasley made three incredible claims while talking with students at a Rock Hill high school: that he ran the 100-yard dash in 9.5 seconds, a near world record; that he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds, faster than a prime college running back; and that he played in the College World Series while attending Clemson University.
When questioned on the claims then, Beasley backed down but bristled.
"I admit to some exaggerations, but that's it," he said. "And I take it very seriously if anyone were to suggest that these off-the-cuff remarks in any way reflected negatively on my personal integrity and-or character."