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When no other Democrat would step up to run for the states 5th Congressional District seat, Joyce Knott did.
Now the Rock Hill small business owner and longtime party faithful is seeking political office for the first time, running against U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney and promising to support small businesses and working class families, womens rights and put an end to partisan bickering.
Offering herself as a candidate, and her knowledge of and love for the district, are admirable qualities, say the people who worked with Knott over the years. Many of those people were alongside her as she campaigned for former U.S. Rep. John Spratt as far back as 1992.
Shes a great campaigner, tireless and imaginative, responsible and meticulous, said John Presto of Rock Hill, finance director of Spratts congressional campaign committee. She goes out of her way to meet people.
Knott was on a committee tasked with finding a candidate to oppose Mulvaney, the Indian Land Republican who unseated Spratt in the 2010 midterm elections, ending the York lawyers 28-year career in Congress.
Still pining from Spratts defeat, no Democrats came forward.
Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said he tried to persuade some people to run without success.
Talking about it with her husband, Ron Knott, she said, Why shouldnt I do it? I traveled the 5th District for 14 years. I know the people of the 5th District. I was born in Spartanburg. I love South Carolina. Why not me?
We kind of laughed about it, said Knott, who with her husband runs a merchandising business that acts as a middle man between manufacturers wanting to sell their housewares in stores including Belk, Tomlinsons and Stein Mart.
The idea of running took hold, Knott said; Congress seemed like a good use of her talents.
Since then, Knott has been taking a do-it-yourself approach to conserve limited resources.
Less than a month before the Nov. 6 election, she still hadnt hired a campaign manager. She has traveled the district, speaking to groups, attending festivals, talking to vendors, running into people she met while campaigning for Spratt.
She has gone to four parades, each time fulfilling two roles the candidate and the campaign worker, arriving early, decorating the car and riding in the parade.
Shes having a difficult time asking people for money, and admits shes failed at fundraising miserably.
Its hard for me to ask somebody to give money, she said. Ive never done that before.
Knott had a fundraiser Friday and plans to pick up the tempo in coming weeks.
So many people still dont know me, she said of the people she meets on the road. Some of the counties say theyve seen me more than Mulvaney.
Knott, 63, traces her interest in politics to her childhood, when her father made her watch presidential debates on television. Her interest gained momentum in 1991 when she was confined to bed and crutches for several months after being rear-ended by a drunk driver.
She had lot of time to watch C-SPAN and learn about Congress. She made tapes and studied them, she said. Shes been politically active ever since.
Her family was dealt another blow during Republican George W. Bushs presidency, Knott said, when her business struggled to maintain its foothold in the market. The business cut employees as demand dropped.
Having weathered the economic downturn, Knott said, her business experience will help her look out for the interests of small businesses in Washington. As a former military wife who has lived overseas, she said she also understands the struggles military families face.
Knott has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO labor union and the South Carolina Working Families Party, which says it wants to build a society that works for all of us, the 99 percent, not just the wealthy and well-connected 1 percent.
If elected, Knott said, she would support letting tax cuts for the richest Americans expire and giving tax credits to businesses that bring jobs back to the United States.
Allen Bailey, chairman of the Sumter County Democratic Party, said Knott always has been a hard worker and her message has been on point for Democrats focused on the middle class.
Knott says she is staunchly against politicians, including Mulvaney, who have signed pledges to not raise taxes, or who have supported cutting funding for health care services for women because of opposition to abortion moves she said amount to standing in the way of womens right to make decisions about their bodies.
Women should not have any men making decisions or making laws for them, she said, repeating something she says often: Women are like snowflakes, none of us are alike.
She also hopes to find existing money in Washington that could go to help the counties in the 5th District blighted after the loss of manufacturing and textile jobs.
A commitment to the district is something people close to Knott have noticed about her.
One thing you could count upon, Spratt said, she is very hard working, committed and passionate about what shes doing. Shes from the district, not someone whos from outside whos recently staked a claim here.
She gets along with other people extremely well, he said, and would have a close and fruitful relationship with district residents.
An uphill battle
While state Democratic leaders contend that the tea party fervor that led Mulvaney to a victory is waning, political analysts disagree. Mulvaneys campaign chest is full and his base strong, they say.
With little money to campaign, Knotts name recognition is low, and people dont vote for people theyve never heard of, said Karen Kedrowski, chairwoman of the political science department at Winthrop University.
Mulvaney, on the other hand, has name recognition, she said, and he also has the resources to buy name recognition if he doesn't have it yet.
The district also has grown more conservative as wealthier people have moved into counties such as York and Lancaster and with the redrawing of district lines brought about by the 2010 U.S. Census, political analysts say.
Dave Woodard, a Clemson University political scientist and pollster, said Mulvaney is very safe. Republicans in the 5th District have waited so long to get a congressman, they'll do whatever they can to protect him, he said.
Regardless of the odds, Knott has support among the party faithful.
Marie McDow of Rock Hill has known Knott for several years. She said Knott was courageous for stepping up to run against Mulvaney, whom she sees as detached from the 5th District, being originally from North Carolina.
I admire her a lot, said Charlie McDow, Marie McDows husband, who served as Spratts district administrator.
Knotts experience working for Spratt has prepared her well for public office, Charlie McDow said. He believes shell make the right choices on social safety net programs, health care and avoiding damaging spending cuts.
The issues are much larger here, he said.
Ironically, McDow said, Knott even fits the bill of what the tea party is looking for in a candidate.
If she got a bunch of votes, maybe more people who dont come from means would step up and run, he said. She is doing the best she can with what shes got...We need more people like that.