GOOSE CREEK — Republican 1st Congressional District hopefuls made their first major joint appearance Saturday since their massive 16-candidate field filled out six days ago.

Key dates

Feb. 17: Deadline to register to vote in the primary

March 19: Republican and Democratic primaries

April 2: Primary runoff (if needed)

May 7: Special election

Thirteen of the 16 GOP candidates showed up and spent three minutes each stating their case to a few hundred gathered here in the American Legion Hall. The district primary is March 19.

Many stayed to mingle with some of the Lowcountry's most reliable Republican voters and volunteers.

Charleston teacher and candidate Teddy Turner jokingly called the event “the Larry Grooms breakfast” because Grooms, a state senator from Bonneau, had the most signs outside and made news from the start.

Berkeley GOP Chair and County Councilman Tim Callanan announced he would step down as county party chairman to run Grooms' congressional campaign.

The hall was packed with people grabbing a bite of breakfast and an earful of what's wrong with Congress. Grooms looked at the buffet line and joked, “I think they're going to break a sales record today.”

Sullivan's Island businessman Keith Blandford, who ran for the seat last fall as a Libertarian, said he would increase Republicans' appeal to moderates and younger voters. “We truly believe in small government,” he said. “We are unashamed Ron Paulers.”

Ric Bryant, an engineer with Fluor Daniel and Hanahan resident, said the nation's problems have solutions and his professional experience solving problems for a living will help.

“Problem solving is a learned ability. I know how to get groups together, break problems down to the small parts and put solutions in place,” he said. “If we do it that way … solutions can be found. I'm not going to ask for your vote, but I will ask you to think about what we really need.”

Grooms, a Bonneau businessman, reminded the crowd he boarded a bus to travel to Washington for a major tea party rally a few years ago. He said if elected, he would be able to fight for the conservative cause from inside the halls of Congress.

“I've waved our sovereignty flag, our Gadsden flag and said I'm tired of this,” he said. “I've been there cutting taxes. I've been there cutting government. I've got a 15-year record of fighting the good fight. I'm a conservative who gets things done.”

Jonathan Hoffman, a Charleston businessman and former White House director of border security, said his background differs from the other candidates.

He vowed to fight for three issues: reforming and simplifying the tax code, ending Obamacare, and reducing the national debt while honoring commitments to the military, veterans and retirees.

“We can send a trained monkey to Washington to vote no every time and that would cut the debt and deficit,” he said, adding that the district needs someone who will make thoughtful cuts.

Jeff King, an engineer from Goose Creek, said he agreed with much of what his fellow candidates were saying. He said it's important to expand the party's reach.

“There are a lot of conservatives out here who are not in this room right now. We've got to reach those people, get them inspired, get them behind a candidate,” he said. “We're not going to do it by electing the same people over and over again, sending them up to Washington. We're going to get the same results.”

Charleston estate lawyer John Kuhn thanked the Berkeley County crowd for being crucial to his 2000 state Senate win —and for their hard work on behalf of Republican candidates.

He talked about growing up on a farm and the legal seminars he has done in all five counties in the congressional district. “I probably am the candidate most suited to represent every inch of the district because I'm in every inch of the district in my business,” he said.

State Rep. Chip Limehouse of Charleston, has served in Columbia since 1995 and noted that he, as a member of the State Infrastructure Bank, helped approve funding for the Sheep Island intersection on Interstate 26.

“That's going to cause a lot of economic development here in Berkeley County and a lot of jobs. That's why I'm running,” he said. “What I have to offer is I'm a proven budget balancer. I've balanced 18 budgets in a row.”

Former Dorchester County Sheriff Ray Nash said he returned from working in Afghanistan to run for Congress because, “I figured if I don't get home soon, I'm not going to recognize it anymore.”

He said the nation's hypocrisy “is staggering,” because it's using its military to secure the Afghanistan border “and we're not securing our own.” He also criticized the nation's giving guns to Afghanistan warlords as the nation tries to take away guns here at home.

State Rep. Andy Patrick of Hilton Head Island said he is not a career politician and is running because he shares the same values as Tim Scott, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Gov. Nikki Haley to fill the next two years of former Sen. Jim DeMint's term.

He talked about his five children, adding, “I am going to Congress to represent my family ... I'm committed to public service. I am committed to my family's future.”

Shawn Pinkston, a Daniel Island lawyer, said he has been active in Mount Pleasant's Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter and would be a congressman who stands up for values of those in uniform.

Pinkston said a recent poll showed 53 percent of Americans fear that Washington will violate their personal rights and freedoms. “It's not just us anymore. The American people are starting to get it,” he said.

Charleston County School Board member Elizabeth Moffly thanked the crowd for their past support, noting that she won 26 counties, including Berkeley, in her recent unsuccessful GOP primary run for S.C. Superintendent of Education.

“I am a public servant. I am called to public service. I want to work for you,” he said. “Fortunately or unfortunately, I stand up for what I believe. I've been the lone 'no' vote many, many times on bureaucracy and growing programs.”

Former Gov. Mark Sanford thanked the crowd for their kindness and said running for the congressional seat that he previously held for six years “is an unexpected turn for me.”

He said he thought his political life was over. His last term as governor was marked by a scandal in which he secretly left the state to visit his mistress in Argentina and then paid a record ethics fine. “I've learned a lot about grace, a lot about forgiveness and a lot about picking yourself up and moving forward,” he said.

Sanford also reminded the crowd he was talking about the debt and deficit spending 15 years ago — and caught flak by being the first governor to turn down stimulus money.

Turner, son of CNN founder and media mogul Ted Turner, said the 1st District needs change, something different. He said he became a teacher because he wanted to make a difference, then joked about his differences with his famous father, calling him “a big global warmer.”

“I nicknamed his jet, 'Global Warmer II,'” he said. “Long story, we don't agree on politics obviously.”

The candidates' appearances came so rapidly, those in the crowd had little time to react, and it was difficult to determine who, if anyone, was their favorite.

The only Republican hopefuls who did not appear at Saturday's event were state Rep. Peter McCoy of James Island, former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic and Tim Larkin.

The Democratic candidates running in their own March 19 primary include Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, development director with Clemson's Research Institute, perennial 1st District candidate Ben Frasier, and Charleston businessman Martin Skelly.

The special election is May 7.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.