Pork on the griddle
Fritz Hollings really brought home the bacon, but South Carolina is losing its taste for largesse
By John F. Dickerson/Greenville
(TIME, Nov. 2) -- Fritz Hollings looks like he's sucking hard on a piece of sour candy. His opponent, Bob Inglis, is explaining to a group of seniors how the budget can be "technically balanced" without actually being balanced at all. Inglis, 39, a Republican Congressman, is measured, orderly and inoffensive, his hands cupped almost in prayer as he pads through the concept. Suddenly Hollings comes awake in a tumble of growls and bellows. "This is monkey talk," he says. The tax cuts the Republican promises will sap the Social Security trust fund. "They're raidin' the bloomin' fund," he blurts. Later Hollings swats away another of his opponent's carefully articulated responses, leaving the Congressman to plead, "I wish the Senator wouldn't belittle my ideas."
Hollings, 76, doesn't think he should be scrapping with Inglis at all. He has done everything a Senator is supposed to, climbing the ladder of seniority over 32 years to become one of the most powerful in his party. He helped rewrite the nation's telecommunications laws and is among the country's most ardent advocates of fair trade. Most of all, though, he has pulled off the trick of earning a reputation as a fiscal conservative while delivering federal goodies to South Carolina: money to deepen the Charleston Harbor, new veterans' clinics and a map full of roads and bridges. "Whenever anybody needed anything, they came to ol' Fritz," he boasts.
But a week before the election, ol' Fritz is in a tussle with bounding Bob, who wants to close up that pork barrel so tight that he votes against projects that benefit his own district. "He resents the government," says Hollings. "Ask him what has he done in Washington in the past six years but whine and complain and holler pork?"
That the white-haired lawmaker is in the toughest race of his life is a measure of just how much has changed in South Carolina and the South since Hollings went to Washington. A progressive Governor who integrated the schools and nudged an old agricultural state into the modern age, Ernest ("Fritz") Hollings became one of the region's Democratic bulls. Now he is stranded in one of the most Republican states in a region that has been transformed from a Democratic to a G.O.P. stronghold. That has the G.O.P. in Washington giddy, pouring resources into a bid to remove Hollings, while his party is doing the same to keep alive their last powerful outpost in the old Confederacy.
The once sluggish South Carolina economy is high-tech, global and in a hurry today, thanks in part to what Hollings has done during his 50 years of "politickin'." But the shiny new offices outside of Greenville are filling with voters who prefer Republican promises of anti-regulation and tax cuts. Inglis is their man, representing part of the heavily Christian "upstate" region that has most benefited from the boom.
Hair parted just so, the Phi Beta Kappa lawyer has the perpetual look of a nice young man--from his gung-ho smile down to his University Shop loafers. But for some, even in his own party, Inglis is a little too much hall monitor and not enough of a pol. At home he chastised conservatives for flying the Confederate flag over the statehouse and for the G.O.P.'s tradition of racially divisive politics. In Washington, where he sleeps on an air mattress in his office, a sign scolds lobbyists who want to buy his vote. He blasted his party for this year's transportation bill. "Do I play the old system of bringing home a little money and expecting everyone to fall at my feet and declare me savior?" he asks. "No. I seek to change systems so the nation prospers."
"Rhubarb," says Hollings in the thick, rolling baritone that is native to low-country Charleston. He says that although Inglis refuses to accept PAC money directly, he takes it indirectly through the national party. And Hollings scoffs at Inglis' promise that as a supporter of term limits, he will serve only two terms: What's the point of electing a lame duck?
Inglis, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, has tried to yoke his opponent to Bill Clinton, who even Hollings acknowledges is "as popular as AIDS in South Carolina." With a studied worriedness, Inglis shakes his head over Hollings' refusal to call for the President's resignation. "I wonder if you are one of the 34 votes he is counting on to cling to power," he asks Hollings. Hardly a Clinton buddy--he bucked him on the right to negotiate trade deals on a fast track and joked about his dating habits--Hollings considered asking for the President's resignation. He called him dishonest instead.
Hollings' position could motivate Inglis' socially conservative base to get out and vote, but it could also bring pro-Clinton African Americans to the polls. In any case, the race is going right to the wire, and it won't be pretty. Hollings has already called his opponent a "goddamn skunk," a "rascal" and a "reptile." The courteous Inglis has turned the outbursts into an issue; he is planning to ride across highways 26 and 85 in his trademark bright-red R.V. on what he's calling the "Expect More Tour." But South Carolinians will have to decide whether expecting more means they should elect a Senator who wants to bring home less.
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Cover Date: November 2, 1998
Pork on the griddle
Ballot to bullet
An unconventional fight