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There is still hope to defeat Lindsey Graham— slim hope, but hope nonetheless.


There is still hope to defeat Lindsey Graham— slim hope, but hope nonetheless.
Yes, Graham won the battle. Yet the foresight of Tom Ravenel means that the war may not yet be over.

by J. Myrle Fuller
June 10, 2014


If you're like me, you probably are very disappointed (if not all that surprised) that Lindsey Graham, the oft-milquetoast (to put it, um, mildly) Republican Senator from South Carolina, has defeated all of his primary challengers combined to win his primary election without so much as a runoff. Given that Graham has taken an admittedly antagonistic attitude toward the tea party and the conservative movement, this development is discouraging. After all, for all the successes the movement has achieved in the House of Representatives, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's surprise defeat at the hands of Professor David Brat tonight, success in the Senate has been far more sporadic.

However, upon reading some of the details about Graham's upcoming general election fight, I noticed a curious detail. In April 2014, anticipating that Graham's political machine would indeed dispatch all of his primary opponents, former State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, a Republican, was planning to mount a third-party challenge to Graham in the general election. To be sure, Ravenel is a flawed candidate: he served a few months in prison for cocaine possession a few years ago, and he ran into some trouble with the Federal Election Commission for his previous run for Senate (he lost in a primary to Jim DeMint, who he later endorsed). He's probably best known right now for his reality TV show, Southern Charm, which airs on Bravo. Yet, even with these drawbacks, Ravenel has a pretty solid conservative record and endorsed Ron Paul for President in 2012.

Ravenel's strategy also brings up an important point. What the Republican Party believes makes an ideal candidate may not necessarily be the same qualities that conservative people—or, for that matter, the general population— want in their elected officials. From the past few elections, especially the presidential ones, the ability to raise money and wrest political connections seems to trump one's strategy for their service, and nowhere was that more evident than Graham's victory tonight. While the United States hasn't moved particularly far to the left in the past few years, with a few possible exceptions (most evidently, same-sex marriage), there has been a major exodus from the Republican Party. That has left the party bosses and loyalists to choose the candidates in the primary elections, while the now-independent conservatives are left out. (Yes, I realize that South Carolina has an open primary process, and I don't rule out the possibility that Democrats engaged in party raiding to help ensure a Graham victory, but I also think that the Democrats see the conservative movement as a weak fringe movement and would rather see it succeed in a primary, then derail it later.)

South Carolina is easily the most conservative state on the East Coast. Nevertheless, launching a third-party candidacy against a Republican and Democratic candidate is fraught with risks, most obviously dividing the Republican and conservative vote and possibly clearing the field for the Democratic Party's candidate, Brad Hutto. Obama lost the state 55-44, and a divided GOP might cause enough of a rift to make Hutto competitive. Graham's political machine is not going to go gently into that good night, as he proved over the primary campaign. Certainly backing Ravenel's third-party candidacy is not a decision to be taken lightly. Yet, if the conservative movement is truly serious about wresting power away from the party bosses, backing Ravenel's renegade candidacy is one viable way to do it.

Flash back about five years ago, to 2009. Doug Hoffman, a little-known accountant, found his way onto the ballot for a Congressional seat in Northern New York. He successfully forced the Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, out of the race. Hoffman ran in a swing district and narrowly lost to Bill Owens. South Carolina is a lot more conservative than northern New York and more conservative than Colorado, where infamous allegorical bomb-thrower Tom Tancredo used the Constitution Party to drive a GOP candidate down and got John Hickenlooper elected in the process. Taking out a Republican favorite, even in a three-way race, can be done.

South Carolina needs to decide if they want to take that risk.

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