Columbia pastor announces campaign for U.S. Senate

03/19/2014 12:28 AM

03/19/2014 12:29 AM

Det Bowers, a Columbia pastor who stepped down from his church last year, has left light footprints as he’s traveled the state to meet with GOP leaders and raise money from potential supporters in his run to unseat U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca.

On Tuesday, Bowers made his bid official in the same low-key manner in an office building that houses his campaign office and his son’s insurance firm.

Bowers spoke before one reporter and more than 60 people, made up mostly of family and friends.

He said the 1775 shot “heard around the world” needs to be heard again – “so loudly that we repeal the Affordable Care Act, that we balance budgets and debt ceilings, that regulations that are strangling small businesses be done away with, because you can’t have jobs without profitable businesses. ... America is the envy of all the nations. They want your vaccinations. They want your education. They want your jurisprudence...your matchless Constitution...your precious freedoms.”

Bowers, 61, is a late entry in the Senate race that’s shaping up to be Graham’s toughest Senate challenge yet. He is among seven Republicans who have announced plans to run against him.

State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, Easley businessman Richard Cash, Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor, and Charleston PR executive Nancy Mace have been campaigning actively. Dave Feliciano, an ex-cop from Spartanburg, and Benjamin Dunn, a Columbia attorney, are recent additions.

Candidates hope to hold Graham below 50 percent of the vote, forcing him into a runoff. A recent Winthrop Poll showed Graham with 45 percent support from Republicans, with 35 percent still undecided. Bowers has not been included in any major polls.

But all of Graham’s challengers have quite a climb to make if they want to beat the incumbent, who finished 2013 with $7.6 million to spend, other political observers say. Bright, Cash, Connor and Mace finished the year with $800,000 combined to spend.

Bowers is an “interesting candidate, and you have to list him as somebody who has some credibility,” said Barry Wynn, a Greenville political financial consultant and former S.C. GOP chairman. “He makes it more likely that you might have a runoff.”

Bowers, a Democrat until 1990, ran Lt. Gov. Nick Theodore’s successful 1986 campaign and chaired the state campaign for Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988. Bowers says he was one of many southern Democrats that shifted into the GOP as it gained a foothold as the South’s conservative party.

Now his positions on the issues are similar to Graham’s other Tea Party challengers, though Bowers steers clear of criticizing Graham, wanting to run a positive campaign.

How much support Bowers has still is unclear. He will not say how much money he has raised or who is backing him. The political director of a group that backed Texas Republican Ted Cruz in his upstart successful U.S. Senate bid said recently the group would back Bowers. After his speech, Bowers said that the most difficult part of the campaign is having to talk about himself. He prefers talking to voters about what is going on in their lives.

“I would rather eat rutabagas than talk with them about what’s going on in my life – it’s just the truth.”

Elections 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 for 20 years

Political career: Ran unsuccessfully for S.C. House in 1980; ran Lt. Gov. Nick Theodore’s successful campaign in 1986; and chaired 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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