[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/11/10/art.demint1110.gi.jpg caption="Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, currently looks to be safe in his re-election bid."](CNN) - The leading Democratic challenger to Sen. Jim DeMint has decided to end his short-lived campaign to unseat the conservative South Carolina Republican, citing the need to spend more time with his family.
The Democrat, Rock Hill trial attorney Chad McGowan, had struggled to gain traction and raise money since announcing his candidacy in October. McGowan pledged to return all of his campaign donations and said he "will be fighting from the sidelines" to defeat DeMint in November.
McGowan was endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee when he entered the race last year.
"I've come to the conclusion that now is the wrong time for me to mount a successful campaign for the United States Senate," McGowan said in a statement Wednesday. "The demands of a young family place a premium on every minute."
Charleston attorney Mullins McLeod, currently one of several Democrats running for South Carolina's open governor's seat, has been mentioned as a possible replacement for McGowan in the Senate race.
A senior campaign adviser to the McLeod campaign told CNN Wednesday that the Senate chatter is not surprising because McLeod is "has proven to be a really good candidate."
"He’s second among Democrats with money-on-hand, and is the only guy out there really motivating folks, so it makes sense people would want him to run for Senate," the adviser said. “But Mullins is committed to being Governor and helping the state recruit jobs and improve public education.”
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/12/01/art.mcgowan.jpg caption="Democrat Chad McGowan is hoping to unseat Republican Jim DeMint next year."](CNN) - The Democrat who wants to be South Carolina's next United States Senator might not see eye to eye with President Obama if he's elected next November.
In fact, Chad McGowan - a Rock Hill trial attorney who national Democrats see as their best hope to unseat conservative Republican Jim DeMint - appears to oppose the bulk of the White House's economic agenda, including the stimulus package and "a government takeover of healthcare."
McGowan's campaign outlined those stands Tuesday in a statement disputing the DeMint team's claim, made Monday, that McGowan supports Democratic health care reform legislation in Washington.
"DeMint's folks get their facts from the same place they've gotten their imaginary economic figures," McGowan spokesman Tyler Jones said in an e-mail to CNN. "The accusation that Chad McGowan has endorsed President Obama's health care plan is blatantly false. And Chad is on the record opposing the stimulus, opposing the bailouts, and opposing a government takeover of healthcare.
"This is the second time in as many months DeMint and his folks have outright fabricated Chad's positions," Jones continued. "Those games may work in Washington, but they won't work here in South Carolina. Instead of making up positions, Chad will continue to present real ideas to fix our economy, create jobs and help South Carolina's hard working middle class families."
That McGowan might not march in lockstep with other Democrats in Washington isn't exactly a surprise: He told CNN in October that he was once registered as a Republican and voted for Lindsey Graham in last year's Senate election. McGowan also called himself "a gun person."
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/16/art.demint.gi.jpg caption="South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint has earned a national following among conservative Republicans."](CNN) - The Democrat hoping to unseat Jim DeMint next year took direct aim at the conservative South Carolina senator for the first time on Monday, accusing him of putting "personal political ambitions" ahead of his constituents.
Chad McGowan, a trial attorney who formally entered the 2010 race in October, pounced on a remark DeMint made on a recent conference call with supporters that was printed Sunday by McClatchy newspapers.
"All of you all over the country - please remember that Senate seats are not about a particular state," DeMint said on the call, according to McClatchy. "They're about our country. Every vote I take is not about South Carolina. It's about the United States of America."
McGowan has avoided confronting DeMint directly since jumping into the race, but he said in a statement he was "disappointed" by the comments.
"It's the same story over and over," McGowan said. "Jim DeMint and his personal political ambitions come first. In times like these, we need TWO Senators who care about South Carolina, who advocate for South Carolina, and who produce for South Carolina. If we had that, we would be making real progress on some of the problems we face in our schools, employment, and crime."
He also knocked DeMint for spending time making endorsements in prominent Republican primaries around the country. The Republican has thrown his support behind conservative Senate hopefuls Marco Rubio in Florida and Chuck DeVore in California.
"An election in California or New York doesn't matter to the man or woman in South Carolina who can't find a job," McGowan said. "This is a question of priorities."
DeMint response after the jump
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/16/art.demint.gi.jpg caption="DeMint is running for a second term in 2010."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's sharp attacks on President Obama - including his memorable line that conservatives can "break" the president by blocking health care reform - have put him in the Democratic crosshairs.
Now national Democrats think they've found the candidate with the best shot at unseating the first term Republican: Chad McGowan, a 38-year-old trial lawyer from conservative York County who officially announced his candidacy on Monday.
Said one Democratic leadership aide in Washington: "Is DeMint more vulnerable than [Richard] Burr or David [Vitter]? Probably not. But McGowan is a self-funder and from the right part of the state. He could give a Republican a run for his money."
McGowan said in an interview with CNN that South Carolina "can do better" than DeMint, but he refrained from any outright attacks against the Republican on the day he jumped in the race. "I don't want to get into bashing any sitting senators at this point," he said. "These races are marathons. I'll just try to keep it positive for now."
DeMint has nearly $3 million in the bank for his campaign, not to mention a loyal network of conservative activists in South Carolina and nationwide willing to support him. McGowan wouldn't say if he plans to contribute his own money to pay for the campaign, but promised to raise "whatever it takes" to win. The last competitive statewide campaign in South Carolina - the 2002 governor's race between Mark Sanford and Jim Hodges - cost more than $12 million.