COLUMBIA — A Columbia pastor, retired attorney and former Democratic operative who is seeking to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has made an ally in a political group that says it helped Texas tea party hero Ted Cruz rise from obscurity in 2012 to win a U.S. Senate seat.
Republican Det Bowers, 61, quietly has been fundraising to run against Graham in June’s GOP primary. Bowers, one of a half-dozen GOP primary challengers to the two-term Seneca incumbent, said he plans to announce his candidacy formally before the end of the first quarter of this year.
If Bowers follows through and files for the Senate race in March, he can expect an endorsement and financial boost from the Washington, D.C.,-based Madison Project, which says it was the first outside political group to endorse Cruz for U.S. Senate.
Cruz’s Texas GOP primary runoff win stunned many and was aided by nearly $4 million in outside spending. It included no independent expenditures from Madison Project. But Cruz’s campaign did use voter-targeting applications that Madison Project’s political director Drew Ryun helped develop. Now, office holders like Cruz and U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah – whom the Madison Project also backed – are giving hope to ultra-conservatives looking to beat GOP incumbents.
“I’m hoping Det will announce,” Ryun, of Fort Worth, told The State newspaper last week. “He’s going to be a credible and serious candidate.
“He really checks all the boxes. He’s got that easygoing style that’s really going to resonate with voters.”
Bowers got his political start in the Democratic Party, including an unsuccessful run for state House in 1980. He ran Lt. Gov. Nick Theodore’s successful 1986 campaign and ran the state campaign for Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988.
“Back in those days, almost everyone in the state was a Democrat,” said Bowers, who switched to the Republican Party in 1990.
Asked why he is running against Graham, Bowers said, “I read a lot of history, and the reading of history will give you an awareness of where our nation is not. ... And it’s not where it could be.”
On policy issues, Bowers is similar to Graham’s other GOP primary challengers, most of whom lean toward tea party/libertarian views.
He opposes Graham’s votes to confirm President Barack Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominees, who are “out of line with South Carolina values, both fiscal and social.”
And he opposes Graham’s willingness to give illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. “Until the borders are secure, you don’t move to the second step,” said Bowers. “The general who discusses surrender already has.”
Passing unbalanced budgets is “untenable,” he added, and “raising debt ceilings does not get us where we need to be.”
Asked what he would do differently from Graham if he were to win the Senate seat, Bowers said, “I haven’t been there, so it’s kind of like asking, ‘What’s marriage like?’ and I’ve never been married.”
What he does know, Bowers said, is that when “you don’t have respect for people, and there is a lack of civility, then you will not accomplish all that you can accomplish. I go into every situation by believing that that person ... has something they can teach me. ... I don’t go in it, whatever it is, perceiving myself to have all of it locked up.”
‘Not just about sending a check’
Graham’s half-dozen Republican primary challengers are facing a two-term incumbent with $7.6 million to spend. To overcome that campaign war chest, they are hoping for backing from an outside group.
Ryun, who runs Madison Project with his father, former U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, said his group’s support likely would include ad buys and ground support. “It’s not just about sending a check,” he said.
The Madison Project does not have the stature of other political groups known to target incumbents, such as the Senate Conservatives Fund, founded by South Carolina’s former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-Greenville. But it hopes to unseat at least 14 congressional incumbents this year.
Politico reported that Cruz wrote a fundraising letter for the group, which had about $295,000 to spend at January’s end. The group also has been running radio ads in Kentucky opposing U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the U.S. Senate, and has five field offices in that state.
Ryun said a successful GOP challenger must strike voters as someone who will go to Washington and follow through on campaign promises – and must be able to raise money, at least $1 million.
‘Not a negative campaign’
Bowers, whose years in the pulpit show in his deliberate, allusion-filled speaking style, said voters will have to decide whether his or Graham’s “affect” is best suited for the U.S. Senate.
“Ours is not a negative campaign. It truly is a campaign of trust and hope. There is somewhat of a malaise in America, and people are jaded,” said Bowers. “ We’re a positive people, we’re an exceptional people. Americans are the answer to America’s problems.
“We jerked lightning out of the air and made electricity – no one else did that,” he said. “All negative energy does is suck the life out of you and me.”
Regarding Graham, he said, “You don’t move America forward by disparaging a man.”
Election 2014: U.S. Senate
Det Bowers, Republican
Family: Lives in Columbia with his wife, Polly. Three sons.
Career: Pastor, Christ Church of the Carolinas, 2000-2013; attorney, 20 years
Political career: Ran for state House in 1980; ran Lt. Gov. Nick Theodore’s successful campaign in 1986; ran Michael Dukakis’ state Democratic presidential campaign in 1988
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Wofford College; USC law school, Master’s of divinity, Columbia International University
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