About 40 Horry and Georgetown county residents gathered at a day-care center in Litchfield Monday night to hear the three Democratic candidates for the 1st District congressional seat face each other for the first time to answer questions at a town-hall style meeting held by the Waccamaw Neck Democrats.
The three candidates - commercial pilot Robert Burton of Mount Pleasant, Georgetown businessman Robert Dobbs and retired accountant Dick Withington of Horry County - were each given five minutes to answer questions from the public that centered on the economy and the military.
Hot button topics such as health care and illegal immigration were minor discussions at the meeting, but organizers said they hope to hold a second town hall debate in the near future.
The discussion began with a question from one of the organizers, Susan Smith, who asked the men to discuss what they would do for Georgetown County, which Smith said she felt had been left out during previous congressional terms in a district that also encompasses Charleston and Horry counties.
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Withington said he would focus on making the tourism industry stronger. Burton said he would focus on reopening the steel plant with new technology as well as bringing in new tourism.
Dobbs said he would work to bring in jobs in new industries such as green energy, as well as looking toward finishing Interstate 73 to improve commerce and tourism.
"There are people struggling to get by and not making it and we can't have that," said Dobbs. "We're the wealthiest nation in the world. ... We can't have people not making ends meet."
Burton, an Air Force colonel, was asked a question about his military service and his opinions about military spending. He took the opportunity to address a comment he said came from Dobbs' campaign accusing him of loving war.
"No one loves war, Mr. Dobbs, no one. ... When I got asked to go, I didn't much want to, but I did it because it was the right thing to do," he said. "Iraq was the wrong war, but my country asked me to go, so I went."
Burton said he supports the war going on in Afghanistan, which he said is a far different war than the one fought in Iraq.
None of the candidates has served in elected governmental office and all three have different philosophies and backgrounds coming into the Democratic primary.
Burton stressed his military and union service as a pilot, and what he described as a working-class background.
Dobbs emphasized his working-class background and experience with unions, as well as his desire to focus on the economy and on representing the community's interests.
Withington said he would like to address issues with wind and hail insurance, and stressed his desire to take on the Republicans.
He made a plea with the residents asking them to offer monetary support for the candidate they felt represented their interest, noting the $3,400 filing fee for the congressional race.
Earlier in the day Monday, Withington sent a release out to supporters telling them about the event and saying if he didn't start getting contributions, he might not be able to make the filing deadline which starts March 16 and ends March 30.
The nine Republicans in the crowded field include Horry County accountant Clark Parker, Isle of Palms City Councilman Ryan Buckhannon, Charleston businessman Carroll "Tumpy" Campbell III, GOP activist Katherine Jenerette of North Myrtle Beach, former Charleston County School Board member Larry Kobrovsky, businessman Mark Lutz, state Rep. Tim Scott, Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond and former Henry Brown aide Stovall Witte.
The primary will be held on June 8; if no one receives 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election will be held on June 22.