The fight is on over whether Mark Sanford is a career politician.
"The mark of a career politician is the one who votes to stay there," Sanford, a three-term congressman and two-term governor, told more than 50 Beaufort County residents during a candidate forum Monday at the Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort. The event for candidates seeking the 1st Congressional District seat was put on by state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort.
Sanford said he is not a career politician, adding that many founding fathers spent years serving the country on and off.
"My history is not voting to stay there. I've voted in the best interest of the taxpayers consistently," said Sanford. He added that he has given up his contract with Fox News of providing occasional political commentary and is now supporting himself through real estate investment deals in the Lowcountry and service on several corporate boards.
But Teddy Turner, son of media mogul Ted Turner and a second candidate who also spoke at the forum, disagreed with Sanford's assessment.
"We heard from a career politician. It's time to do something different," said Turner, an economics teacher at a private school outside of Charleston who is on sabbatical to campaign. He formerly owned a yacht-repair company and also worked for CNN and some of the other networks once owned by his father.
Turner, who has never run for office before, said the founding fathers "did not envision people spending their entire lives in politics. The simple reason is because, once you get them there, you can't get them out."
Sanford also pledged to set a term limit for himself just as he did when he was in Congress before, but he failed to say the number of terms he would serve. He also endorsed cutting federal spending, possibly military spending too, and a push toward scrapping the federal tax system and moving toward a flat national sales tax.
When pressed on how Sanford would work to stop D.C. gridlock, he touted his desire for change as enough.
"(Congress) responds to conviction. It responds to people making a stand," he said. "If there's anything I've learned in my storm of life is to have empathy for people wherever they are in life. ... And you combine those two (conviction and empathy) and ... one person can make a difference."
Meanwhile, Turner said he decided to run because of the state's 50 percent high school graduation rate as well as a desire to help get the country's financial house in order.
Almost three quarters of all S.C. high school students -- 74.9 percent -- graduated on time in 2012, according to data from the S.C. Department of Education. "On time" means within four years.
Turner said his time in the classroom has prepared him for working with others to get things accomplished and avoid gridlock.
"I teach students from all walks of life, and I relate to them," he said.
Sanford and Turner both said they're well-prepared to serve in Congress.
Sanford said he will retain the seniority he previously had in Congress and still knows many members of Congress, giving him a chance to land spots on important committees, including Ways and Means, which drafts the federal budget.
Turner's zinger response got the only applause of the night.
"If you can sit across the table from (dad Ted Turner) and Jane Fonda for 10 years and you can, one, survive intact, and two, have them going, 'Wait a minute, I think he has a point there.' I think going to Washington shouldn't be that difficult," Turner said, adding he would use Turner family connections if needed to help the country.
"I'll use every tool that I can," he said.
Attendee Patricia Bell said she was pleasantly surprised by both candidates, who proved to be more than the stereotypes of the son of a rich liberal and an experienced lawmaker with moral failings.
"If it was just the two of them in the race, and I had to choose tonight, I'd have a difficult time," she said.