As a child, Larry Grooms and his two siblings lived in a two-bedroom mobile home.
"Someone had to sleep on the couch, and that was my job," he told about 30 people Friday during an event sponsored by the Republicans of Sun City Hilton Head.
Now, the 48-year-old Berkeley County native is hoping there's room for him in Congress.
The 13-year state senator is among a dozen or so other Republicans crisscrossing the 1st Congressional District, which includes most of Beaufort County, preparing for the March 19 GOP primary.
Criticized by some as an ideologue, Grooms is short in stature with a big Statehouse reputation for fiery speeches on fiscal conservatism. He says he can rise above the GOP pack seeking Tim Scott's former seat.
"I've seen people who have gotten elected (to office), and for a while, they vote like they said they would when they were campaigning, but then they stop," said Grooms, who started a chain of convenience stores. "I'm the only one who has actually done it. There are 10,000 votes that show I am exactly the same guy I was when I got there."
That includes his work in 2007 to increase financial scrutiny of the S.C. Department of Transportation after an audit discovered questionable spending and letting of contracts.
"We now have objective criteria for road projects in the state," said Grooms, chairman of the Senate's Transportation Committee.
But he concedes the 2007 reforms didn't go far enough, and more changes are needed.
Grooms and former Gov. Mark Sanford, who also is running for the congressional seat, offer similar views on limited government and less spending -- themes likely to resonate with tea-party voters, which polls indicate still carry clout in South Carolina and are likely primary voters.
The question remains whether they prefer Sanford's smoother style or Grooms' rougher, more fiery approach.
Grooms has one big advantage. The married father of three, who will celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary in May, lacks Sanford's personal baggage of an extramarital affair.
And he's got one heavyweight in his corner already. U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-York, also a tea-party favorite, urged Grooms to run and is now backing him, Grooms said Friday.
Mulvaney confirmed Friday that he urged Grooms to get in the race, even bringing him up to Washington D.C. to meet a group of like-minded House members.
"I know him well. I worked with him on several issues when we were in the (state) Senate together, and we really need more conservatives like him in Congress," Mulvaney said.
Sun City resident Bill Cornelius, who attended Friday's meeting in the gated community, said he will consider voting for Grooms.
"I like what I heard," Cornelius said, referencing Grooms' stance on lowering taxes and cutting federal spending. "But I want to hear from the other candidates."