June 25, 2014

‘Southern Charm’ star planning US Senate race against Graham

With less than a month to go before the filing deadline, Charleston businessman and reality TV show star Thomas Ravenel says he is proceeding with plans to run as an independent for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Lindsey Graham.

With less than a month to go before the filing deadline, Charleston businessman and reality TV show star Thomas Ravenel says he is proceeding with plans to run as an independent for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Lindsey Graham.

Ravenel, who was state treasurer before resigning due to federal drug charges, said Wednesday that he plans soon to complete a petition drive, collecting the signatures of at least 10,000 S.C. voters.

That petition would enable him to appear on the ballot this November with three other candidates, including Graham, in a bid for a six-year Senate term. Also on the ballot will be Democratic state Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg, and Libertarian Victor Kocher of Columbia.

Though he is postponing any official confirmation of his candidacy until the required signatures are collected, Ravenel is not shy about disparaging his potential opponents, especially the race’s frontrunner, Graham.

Ravenel accuses Graham of having a “knife to the back” of the U.S. military, saying the hawkish senator consistently wants to send “overstretched” American forces into conflicts across the world. All the while, Ravenel says, Graham helps enrich military contractors.

Citing heavy fighting and sectarian violence in Iraq, Ravenel objects to what he says are Graham’s calls for “re-invading” that country. “We need to have a defense strategy based on restraint, a strategy that doesn’t have us mobilizing upon every flare-up that happens across the globe.”

Ravenel is not alone in such criticism of Graham’s foreign policy.

Democrat Hutto says S.C. veterans have told him of their disenchantment with the incumbent. According to Hutto, those veterans say Graham is eager to send U.S. troops into battle but does not ensure they receive proper care when they return home, failing, for instance, to use his post on the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Armed Services to oversee the scandal-ridden Department of Veterans Affairs.

Hutto said he welcomes Ravenel’s possible candidacy, adding the former statewide GOP office holder would provide a “unique point of view.”

“Voters deserve a real choice for something as important as who represents them in the U.S. Senate,” Hutto said.

‘A pretty poor investment’

Ravenel’s “unique” perspective comes courtesy of his assorted public lives.

Ravenel, the son of former 1st District U.S. Rep. Arthur Ravenel, previously ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, placing third in the GOP primary. In 2006, he was elected state treasurer only to resign the next year after being indicted for cocaine charges. Subsequently, Ravenel pleaded guilty and served 10 months in prison.

Most recently, Ravenel has starred in Bravo’s “Southern Charm” reality show, presenting himself as an amorous, indulgent polo-playing partier who lives a charmed life at an Edisto Island plantation.

At this spring’s conclusion of “Southern Charm’s” first season, the 51-year-old Ravenel announced that his on-air — and current — girlfriend, 29 years his junior, had given birth to a baby girl. All the while, Ravenel has been a developer of shopping centers across the South.

Despite his success in business and real estate, political science professor Karen Kedrowski of Winthrop University says Ravenel faces an uphill battle in trying to unseat Graham.

Among Ravenel’s challenges are the substantial numbers of S.C. voters who cast straight-party tickets on Election Day, choosing only candidates from the Democratic or Republican parties. It also will be hard to raise money and organize supporters, Kedrowski said, without the backing of a national party.

“He would probably be considered a pretty poor investment,” said Kedrowski, who is also dean of Winthrop’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Political action committees and donors like to bet on a winning horse.”

Graham, who soundly defeated six challengers in June’s Republican primary by taking about 57 percent of the vote, should not have problems easily being re-elected, says Kedrowski.

“(The Graham campaign’s) strategy right now should be to not screw up,” says Kedrowski. “He has every motivation not to engage with his opponents because that makes his opponents more credible.”

Graham was not available for an interview Wednesday, and his campaign spokesman did not reply to a request for comment on Ravenel.

‘Here’s my battle plan’

Ravenel and Hutto, however, think Graham has worn out his welcome with S.C. voters.

“Sen. Graham has forgotten about us,” said Hutto. “He wants to talk about Benghazi.

“I want to talk about Barnwell, Beaufort and Bennettsville,” the Democrat said, adding he is concerned about S.C. infrastructure and schools, not “pretending to be the junior secretary of state.”

Still, Ravenel is cagey when asked about his strategy for the race, declining to discuss his campaign plans and fundraising goals or disclose the number of registered voters who already have signed his petition to be on the ballot, due to the State Election Commission by noon on July 15.

While he says he is a proponent for peace, Ravenel used a war analogy to explain his campaign secrecy.

“You think Stonewall Jackson wrote a little note over to Gen. Grant and said here’s my battle plan?”

Ryan is a former staffer of The State

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