Teddy Turner inherited his love of sailing from his father, media magnate Ted Turner. But there is less of a family resemblance when it comes to politics.
While the elder Turner leans Democratic, Teddy Turner is running as a Republican in a crowded race for an open South Carolina congressional seat created by a U.S. Senate appointment.
“My dad asked, `What’s the minimum amount I can give because you’re a Republican?“’ Teddy Turner quipped. “My dad has been asking for years, `How the heck did you become so conservative?“’
Teddy Turner is one of at least 10 Republicans and two Democrats running in the March 19 party primaries in the district.
The contest has already attracted former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican seeking to make a political comeback after an affair with an Argentine woman derailed his career, and comedian Steven Colbert’s sister, who is vying for the Democratic nomination.
During an interview with the Associated Press in his home overlooking a marsh in this bedroom community near Charleston, the younger Turner described how his conservative views were decades in the making.
One of five Turner children, Robert Edward Turner IV graduated from South Carolina’s military college, The Citadel, then worked in the then-Soviet Union with CNN, the cable network his dad founded.
Later he held positions both with Turner Broadcasting System and Country Music Television before returning to Charleston 13 years ago. He ran several businesses and worked with underprivileged children at the South Carolina Maritime Foundation. Now he teaches economics at the Charleston Collegiate School, a private school near Charleston.
Working for CNN, Turner said he saw firsthand a busted centralized economy and experienced socialized medicine after being in a Soviet hospital following a serious traffic accident.
“That is scary and we never need to get there,” said Turner, 49, sitting in his home where the walls are lined with sailing photos. He worries the United States is heading down the same road with the government trying to be everything for everybody.
What concerns him most is the federal budget deficit. He said he decided to get into the race after discussions about the issue with former U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, hearing his student’s questions about the state of the economy and looking into the eyes of his three young children and wondering what kind of nation they will inherit.
“That’s been a huge focus and what really pushed me over the edge,” he said. “There is a window of opportunity to talk common sense before it all starts to scatter and shatter. We have a short time to do that. The politicians are not getting it done.”
Scott, a Republican, was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Republican Jim DeMint resigned.
The 1st Congressional district extends from the sea islands northeast of Charleston southwest to the gated communities on the resort of Hilton Head Island. It leans strongly Republican – it’s been decades since it last sent a Democrat to Congress – and Sanford held the seat for three terms before he was elected governor.
Making his first political race, Turner casts himself as a newcomer, not a career politician, and one who is willing to talk with those across the aisle in Congress about the nation’s troubled finances.
“The problem is people have lost the art of talking to each other. They have lost the art of debate,” he said.
He said he would push for a commonsense approach, telling each agency to trim their budgets by a certain percentage. That, he says, is exactly what a business or a family would do during hard times.
With Turner, what you see is what you get, said Hacker Burr, the head of Charleston Collegiate, from which Turner is on sabbatical.
“He’s not afraid to engage political issues,” Burr said. “He wears his heart on his sleeve so it was not a surprise to me that he would want to jump in and see if he could effect real change on a bigger scale.”
Scott Buchanan, the executive director of The Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics, said being an outsider may not work in Turner’s favor in the GOP primary.
“Once people make the association with his father, he has some name recognition. But one obstacle he has is he has not held office before and primary voters generally look to names they are familiar with and have had some political experience,” he said.
Buchanan added that he sees little evidence that GOP voters who would vote in the primary are willing to be accommodating across the aisle. He gives the early edge to three state legislators in the race, as well as to Sanford.
Turner said his dad is supportive of his congressional bid but that he doesn’t expect him to see him on the campaign trail.
“I think politically we are dissimilar enough that I’m not sure it would benefit me,” Turner said, adding, “He knows our goals are the same. We want a better planet. We want a better country.”
Ted Turner did not immediately respond to a message from the AP seeking comment on his son’s candidacy.
Teddy Turner’s family and the Sanfords own rural property in the same area of coastal South Carolina, and Turner has known Mark Sanford for years, hunting and sailing with him.
While Sanford has high name recognition after two terms as governor and a sex scandal, Turner doesn’t see it as a positive. “I think Mark has had his time,” he said.
Turner said not being a politician may be an advantage for his campaign, which began airing its first television ads last weekend.
“What I get asked more often is, `Why would I want to be one of them?“’ Turner asked. “I say we can sit on the sidelines and watch the game go on or get out there and put on your pads and hope you don’t get killed.”