The talk was civil, but the jabs undeniable Friday at a GOP forum where some candidates in the 1st Congressional District race criticized others for being "career politicians" who have not cut spending as they said they would.
"We don't have accountability from our politicians," said Teddy Turner, a first-time candidate and Charleston teacher who participated in the candidate forum put on by the Hilton Head Island Republican Club.
Six of the 16 in the Republican primary currently hold or have held state or federal office. And 13 of them were in attendance at Friday's event at Country Club of Hilton Head.
"They're not cutting budgets like we're cutting budgets," said Turner to the crowd of nearly 200 people.
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Shawn Pinkston, a Charleston attorney and first-time candidate, joined in the chorus during his time at the podium.
"While they were meeting with lobbyists, while they were meeting with special interest, I was wearing combat boots," said Pinkston, a veteran of the war in Iraq, who, like the other candidates, called for a Washington overhaul to bring about lower taxes and fewer regulations.
The experienced candidates pushed back, saying they were true conservatives who stuck to the party's principles.
"I'm the same guy today as I was when I first stepped foot in that chamber," said Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, who has been in the state Senate since 1997 -- voting against the last 10 state budgets because they were not lean enough. "I've stood on principle."
Rep. Chip Limehouse, a Charleston Republican who has served in the S.C. House since 1995, cited his record of job creation, including helping to negotiate a land sale to Boeing to expand the plane maker's footprint to more than 1,000 acres from the current 260 acres.
"There's going to be a (jobs) spinoff that's going to benefit us all," said Limehouse, adding that state lawmakers have done much to lure other companies to the state, including Firestone, Bridgestone and Michelin.
The most spirited speech came from John Kuhn, a former state senator who said he has a proven track record of standing up for conservative principles. He told of how he filibustered for two days to stop a spending bill and got no help from Grooms or then-Gov. Mark Sanford, who is also running for the 1st District seat.
Kuhn also took on Sanford, encouraging audience members to ask Sanford whether he would agree to term limits as several of the other candidates have done.
Sanford said he would but would not say how many terms he would limit himself to. He previously served three terms in Congress before stepping down to fulfill his term-limit promise to voters.
Sanford, the leader in the race according to the internal polling of several candidates, also took a knock from first-time candidate Jonathan Hoffman, the former director of the Homeland Security Council team under President George W. Bush.
After the former governor explained he would retain his seniority if he went back to Congress, giving him an upper hand in grabbing coveted committee assignments, Hoffman pointed out that was not necessarily the case.
"Mark is running on the idea that his previous time in Washington will earn him seniority on committees. The only thing his seniority gets him is a nicer office on Capitol Hill," said Hoffman, who now works as a military prosecutor in the Air Force Reserves. "The speaker of the House picks committee assignments, and Mark's history of not working with leadership doesn't bode well for getting placed on committees that would benefit the 1st District. I will put my experience in Washington up to the task any day."
The 16 Republican candidates face off in the March 19 primary. They hope to replace Tim Scott, R-Charleston, who resigned after he was appointed to fill Jim DeMint's seat in the U.S. Senate.