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The savory smells of fresh bacon, eggs and fatback wafted nearby as U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint tackled a bevy of questions from locals on Monday morning, covering everything from health care to the upcoming general election.
A group of about 50 voters, hungry for breakfast and answers to their most pressing political queries, attended the event inside a small dining room at JoMars Family Restaurant.
It was the first of two stops in the county on Oct. 15 for the Republican senator, who provided his insight into the presidential race between incumbent President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Also in the audience were several local political candidates, including incumbent Lancaster City Councilwoman Sara Eddins, petition candidate for State House 44 seat Joseph Coy, Republican candidate for State House 53 seat Richie Yow and incumbent state Senate District 16 representative Greg Gregory.
Throwing his support behind Romney, DeMint thanked the audience for getting involved in the political process.
“It’s because of small groups like this all over the country coming together to change things,” DeMint said.
Based on his observations about the state of health care and the national budget, he said the election “is make or break, a now or never election.”
“The power behind what I do is you. Without you I don’t have any ability to change Washington,” he said.
DeMint then answered questions from the audience, including several related to a federal health-care plan signed into law by Obama in 2010, often called “Obamacare.”
He labeled the plan unclear and described problems some senior citizens have with Medicare under the new health-care plan, particularly their difficulty in finding doctors who will accept new Medicare patients.
“That makes senior citizens second-class citizens,” DeMint said. “We need to repeal that thing. The government can’t run our health-care system. They couldn’t even run the Cash For Clunkers program and ran it into the ground in two weeks.”
Eddins had crumbling local infrastructure on her mind as she asked DeMint about what she called the “trenches of Lancaster,” particularly the bad roads in the county. She wanted to know if there is any grant money available on the federal level to fix the problem.
DeMint said the best strategy is to find a way to use more gas tax money collected locally.
“Right now 18 cents of it goes to Washington. If we can have a system where all of the gas tax stays in South Carolina and is then allocated based on traffic and growth, then it could be used for our infrastructure,” he said.
Pass a budget
After the event, DeMint discussed some of the hottest topics on the minds of residents he’s met this election cycle.
He said many small-business owners have asked how they should plan for the future.
“I spoke to a manufacturer the other day who has two plans. If tax rates expire, he won’t do anything. If they stay the same, he will hire 25 people,” he said. “Most people in South Carolina, particularly in business, want to see a change at the top, they want to fix tax rates.”
DeMint also commented on Romney’s recent post-debate approval surge and the challenges facing Republican candidates in local, state and federal elections.
“For Romney, his surge isn’t just in popularity, but in hopefulness that this election is going his way,” he said.
As for how to tackle the biggest issues facing the nation, DeMint said everything goes back to passing a budget.
“If the Republicans can pass a budget, then other things will follow, such as repealing Obamacare,” he said.
About an hour later, DeMint took an extended tour of local manufacturer Nutramax’s multiple buildings in the Lancaster Business Park.
Joining DeMint on the tour, where he was able to speak with several employees, were chairman of the board Robert Henderson, as well as President and CEO Todd Henderson.
“I talked to a lot of folks from the local area who are excited about the creation of jobs and we also talked about what makes businesses work,” DeMint said.
DeMint said this includes emphasizing economic development and he praised the efforts of Nutramax and county officials to expand the company’s operations.
“I’ve heard all this talk about businesses being built by others, but the roads and infrastructure here (in Lancaster Business Park) were paid by businesses like this and the jobs they create,” he said.
Todd Henderson said his company has already invested $20 million in the county and employs 130 workers, though he expects to add another 70 employees in 2013.
“Our goal is to really make a difference in Lancaster County, to be good citizens,” Henderson said. “We realize one company is not going to change everything, but we’ll do our best.”
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli
at (803) 416-8416