MT. PLEASANT, S.C. -- In the Republican Liberty Caucus’ endorsement of state Sen. Lee Bright for the U.S. Senate Wednesday, the group’s seemingly mild-mannered, genial state chairman stepped up to a podium here to offer particular praise not usually associated with the pugnacious politician he was feting.
“The thing that really stands out for me is that he is a unifier. He can bring together the various aspects, the various segments of the Republican Party of South Carolina,” said RLC South Carolina chairman Scott Pearson. “And he can do that in a way that our incumbent is not able to do.”
In just a few short minutes later, Bright -- who is one of three Republicans challenging Sen. Lindsey Graham in next June’s primary -- blew that notion up all by himself.
“I don’t believe in compromise,” he matter-of-factly told the RLC’s gathering of about 35 at a local water plant. “I think there is no compromise when it comes between liberty and tyranny.”
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Of Congress’ deal to reopen the government after 16 days, Bright blasted his party for capitulation.
“We didn’t get anything out of the deal. Nothing. We surrendered again,” he said.
And he proudly touted the fact that he was the only member of the South Carolina legislature to vote against a popular, bipartisan cigarette tax increase. “That was 169 to 1,” he said with a grin. A fellow legislator, he recalled, once told him he’s about “as flexible as concrete.”The 43-year-old Bright is part of a budding flock of 2014 GOP Senate candidates who are aiming to brand themselves as the next Ted Cruz, Rand Paul or Mike Lee -- the cage-rattling, custom-snubbing, fearless Senate trio that many right-leaning groups are now using to define what it means to be a conservative.
We’ll stand with Ted Cruz, we’ll stand with Rand Paul, we’ll stand with Mike Lee. You’ll have a fourth up there fighting the battle,” Bright promised the onlookers. “I’m ready to go to war.”
It’ll take a war-like mentality to make the contest competitive. While Graham’s support for bipartisan immigration reform and general willingness to work with President Obama has certainly blemished him in the eyes of hardline conservatives, South Carolina Republican operatives contend the weakness of the relatively obscure field lining up against the incumbent senator makes him a strong favorite for reelection.
Graham, who has already launched television ads, announced this week he’s got $6.9 million to unload against his opponents. Bright has raised just over $100,000 for his effort.
But Bright -- who one consultant demeaningly dubbed ‘Not So Bright’ -- is no dummy. He knows he’ll need the perfect storm of outside money, momentum and unpredictable events to make it a race.
In these early stages, that means doing the best job playing the part of the next conservative crusader-in-waiting.
And he’s got at least one small group convinced.
“Lee Bright is to the South Carolina Senate, what Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and Mike Lee are to the United States Senate. He is exactly that kind of candidate. He will be exactly that kind of U.S. Senator,” said Lowcountry GOP Liberty Caucus leader Daniel Encarnacion.