Rick Wade run for U.S. Senate from SC sets up historic all-black race

Rick Wade says he doesn’t consider himself the underdog in his upcoming run for U.S. Senate from South Carolina.

The race will pit two African-Americans against each other, with Wade facing the incumbent, Tim Scott, who was appointed by governor Nikki Haley to fill the seat vacated by Jim DeMint January 1st.

Wade, 51, announced his entry into the race on Friday, releasing a statement saying, “the people of South Carolina understand that Washington is broken. If we are going to solve the big problems we face and get things done, our representatives must be accountable to their constituents. That starts with three commitments: First and foremost, is the commitment to listen to the people, secondly, a promise to work for bipartisan solutions to fix our problems, and thirdly, a commitment to reduce the influence of special interests that have enjoyed too much power in Washington for too long.”

When theGrio sat down with Wade before his announcement, he expressed confidence that he could win, even in one of the most conservative states in the country, and against a Republican incumbent with nearly $3 million in the bank as of this fall.

“This is doable despite the fact that we haven’t elected an African-American since reconstruction,” said Scott, speaking of his state’s history. (No matter who wins, between Scott and Wade, that streak will be broken in 2014.) “[And] there’s no question that South Carolina has evolved to a more Republican state. But here’s the pathway to victory: just by being on the ballot, on average I’ll get 45 percent of the vote. Every election year, Democrats fall between 45, 46 percent. There are a quarter million unregistered African American voters [in South Carolina], not to mention a significant number of voters who are registered [but] who are not voting. So part of the pathway is to enhance and expand our base registration and turnout.”

“The other part of it,” says Wade, who has been an executive at Hoffman-La Roche pharmaceuticals and Blue Cross Blue Shield, as well as a Commerce Department official, “is that I’m confident that I can win a reasonable percentage point of independents. I think my background of being from the private sector, [combined] with the right message, gets me maybe one to two points more of independents. And then there’s no question that  expanding the Democratic base turn out, voter registration and mobilization, and adding just a small percentage of the independent votes takes us to the top. That’s a winning strategy.”

Wade is familiar with putting together strategies based on overcoming long odds. Born in Lancaster South Carolina, “a mill town,” as he describes it, Wade says his personal story “is so South Carolina.”

“I had very humble beginnings,” he says. “A father who didn’t graduate from high school, was a fork lift operator in the textile mills, a mother who graduated from what then was called Lancaster Training School and was a nurse’s assistant her entire life. And six of us; five boys and one girl and we all went to the public schools. All of my brothers; four other brothers had distinguished military careers, following in my father’s footsteps as a war veteran. And I was the first person in my family to pursue advanced education at the University of South Carolina and then ultimately at Harvard University.”

He reels off a string of “firsts” that he achieved as an ambitious young political staffer, turned politician in his home state: “first black chief of staff for a constitutional officer (former South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Nick Theodore and later a member of Democratic governor Jim Hodges’s cabinet.) … I’ve worked in the House of Representatives (as an analyst for the House Ways and Means Committee) and spent a lot of time in corporate America. And so it’s a journey that’s about hard work and faith and education. Just by putting it together and working hard I’ve built a tremendous career. And I think my story will resonate very well, not just with African Americans but with people across the state.”