U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham raised $873,178 from January through March for his re-election bid, ending his slowest fundraising haul in a year with nearly $6.9 million to spend.
But, in the same three months, the two-term Republican incumbent’s ground game started heating up. Graham’s campaign spent almost $1.7 million – more than his six GOP challengers have to spend combined – on television and radio ads, opening six regional campaign offices, and hosting free barbecues and pancake breakfasts for supporters.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, appointed to the U.S. Senate in December 2012 after Jim DeMint resigned, raised $952,753 in the quarter, finishing with more than $3.7 million to spend. That’s the most the North Charleston Republican, running his first statewide campaign, has had on hand at the end of any quarter. Scott faces five challengers, including one Republican in the June GOP primary, in his bid to retain the seat.
Graham’s continued fundraising lead and spending mean the odds are growing more and more slim that any of his six Republican challengers can topple the incumbent in the GOP primary less than two months away, two political scientists say.
“I would definitely say it’s a long shot,” said College of Charleston professor Jordan Ragusa.
“It’s time to get spending,” said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University political scientist. “They (Graham’s challengers) have got to get their name out there.”
Graham’s pack of GOP challengers hope to hold the incumbent to less than 50 percent of the primary vote and force him into a runoff two weeks later, when third-party political groups might help pay for an anti-Graham ad blitz.
Until then, his challengers have to decide how best to spend their limited money.
Huffmon said Graham’s challengers have two choices: Run ads targeting Graham or run ads to get their own names out to GOP primary voters.
“The people who are in the bottom half of fundraising, it’s going to be extremely unlikely – perhaps not impossible, but extremely unlikely – that you are going to make it to a runoff,” Huffmon said. “If I’m that person, I’m asking, ‘Am I helping or hurting by staying in (the race)?’ ”
Among Graham’s challengers, Columbia pastor Det Bowers’ fundraising hints that he could mount the most serious challenger to the Seneca incumbent.
Having entered the race only in February, Bowers raised $417,367 in two months – a total that includes no personal money or loans – and has $384,248 to spend, his campaign said last week.
“For somebody who was not a known entity, except within a few circles, that’s a lot of money to raise in a small amount of time,” Huffmon said.
Easley businessman Richard Cash ended the quarter with $464,056 to spend after raising $347,626 more in the 2014’s first three months. But that fundraising includes a $200,000 loan.
Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor has $314,529 to spend, having raised $170,036 during the quarter, including a $100,000 personal loan.
Charleston public relations executive Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of The Citadel, raised $208,000 from January through March, down about 19 percent from her previous fundraising quarter. Mace had $223,000 to spend at the end of March, her campaign said.
State Sen. Lee Bright, the only one of Graham’s challengers to register at more than 10 percent in a poll, finished March with $78,557 to spend, having raised $141,168 during the quarter.
Columbia attorney Benjamin Dunn, the last Graham challenger to enter the race on the Republican side, trails the fundraising pack, having raised about $10,000, he said, since he entered the race in mid-March.
Libertarian Victor Kocher of Columbia and two Democrats – state Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg and Jay Stamper of Irmo – also are running for Graham’s seat.
Of Scott’s challengers, Richland County Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson has been in the race the longest but has struggled to raise money.
Campaign finance reports for candidates seeking federal office were due Tuesday. However, U.S. Senate candidates’ reports, which must be mailed or hand delivered in hard copy, were not immediately available online. Here is what the campaigns reported, in total raised and cash left to spend, for the quarter:
(Candidate, Quarterly money raised, Cash on hand)
U.S. Senate, full term
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (Incumbent): $873,178; $6.9 million
State Sen. Lee Bright: $141,168; $78,557
State Sen. Brad Hutto: $23,485 in last four days of March, including a $15,000 personal loan; $12,885
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (incumbent): $952,753; $3.7 million