First Citadel female grad, Sen. Bright will take on Graham

ashain@thestate.comAugust 1, 2013 

— Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, and state Sen. Lee Bright, one of the Legislature’s more outspoken libertarians, say they will announce soon that they will run against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in next year’s Republican primary.

The two challengers would join Richard Cash, an Easley businessman who lost a 2010 Republican congressional runoff, in trying to block Graham from winning a third six-year term in the Senate.

However, a large field of libertarian opponents could help Graham by splintering Tea Party voters among his challengers, S.C. political scientists said. “If I’m Lindsey Graham, I want two or three people opposing me,” Citadel political scientist Scott Buchanan said.

On her website, Mace said Thursday that she plans to make her announcement at 9 a.m. Saturday at a GOP breakfast in her hometown of Goose Creek.

Mace, who runs a Charleston public relations agency that has done political work, said she would talk about her campaign then. The 35-year-old political newcomer has said for months that she was mulling a run against Graham. The Seneca Republican has been targeted by Tea Party followers because, they say, of his willingness to compromise with Democrats on some issues.

Bright, a 43-year-old Spartanburg County truck company owner, said Thursday he plans to enter the race within the next few weeks.

Bright said he was waiting to see if either U.S. Reps. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, or Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, enter the GOP primary against Graham. The congressmen have not announced any plans to challenge Graham, whom Bright said is too willing to allow government to intrude into private lives.

Unlike Mace, Bright said he has a voting record that voters can use to judge his commitment to limited government. In 2011, for instance, Bright introduced a bill to study creating a S.C. currency in case the federal government fell into financial ruin.

“My having a record in the state Senate similar to the record of (former U.S. Sen.) Jim DeMint had in the U.S. Senate would be appealing to South Carolinians,” Bright said.

Cash, 53, said the additional candidates will bring more interest into the race. He said he is not just running against Graham but wants to share his positive message of “hope and heritage.”

The Graham campaign declined comment until the candidates formally announce they are running.

With only 10 months before the June 2014 primary, Mace, Bright and Cash need to raise lots of cash fast to have a chance of overcoming the $6.3 million that the Graham campaign has on hand.

Graham’s supporters also have started a super PAC to support his re-election bid. An anti-Graham political organization also was formed last month to defeat the 58-year-old senator.

Bright said he thinks he can raise the $5 million necessary to run a competitive campaign.

Some money could come from outside the state, such as from the Club for Growth, said Mark Tomkins, a University of South Carolina political scientist.

“Do the Koch brothers come in?” Tomkins said of the influential Midwestern businessmen known for backing conservative candidates. “I’m not sure they are not pleased with Graham. There’s a lot of money out there none of us know about.”

Mace faces a tough challenge in going up against Graham, a seasoned politician, The Citadel’s Buchanan said. However, a good showing – winning about 40 percent of the primary vote – could propel her to another future office, such as the state Legislature.

“There’s something to said for going through the gauntlet,” Buchanan said. “She’s aiming high on this one.”

Bright will run a very aggressive campaign, experts said.

“He is the in-your-face, red-meat conservative who will play real well with voters who are critical of Lindsey,” Buchanan said.

But Tompkins said a Bright candidacy could anger libertarians who prefer Mace, popular in some circles because she broke the gender barrier at South Carolina’s previously all-male military college.

“He doesn’t offer a story that can attract coverage the way Nancy Mace does,” Tompkins said of Bright. “With lots of time to go, I would expect conservatives to work hard to come behind a single candidate – and she may be better positioned than he is to take advantage of that effort.”

Political analysts also said Graham’s positions on some issues have grown more conservative as his 2014 re-election drew closer. For instance, Graham has launched several attacks against the Obama administration for its handling of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

“He’s trying to cover his flank on the right side,” Buchanan said of Graham.

Even if he wins re-election, a hard-fought GOP primary could send a message to Graham. “It puts pressure to be less cooperative and (not) sign on to those grand bargains with Democrats,” Tompkins said.

CORRECTION: This story was updated to reflect Lindsey Graham's correct number of terms in the Senate.

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