The Americans hope to rise, the Greens say they are refocusing and two petition candidates have millions to throw into their own campaigns.
Thus far in 2014, that is the story of the wild card candidates — the third-party and petition hopefuls — who will be on November’s ballot, where one third party will disappear from statewide races, another is making its debut and two candidates with personal fortunes hope to make waves in the races for governor and the U.S. Senate.
The question is: On Wednesday, Nov. 5, will any of their candidacies have mattered? They could, some say, but most likely as political spoilers, rather than outright winners.
After a decade on the statewide ballot, the S.C. Green Party says it will concentrate on local races this year, not running candidates for statewide office. However, the American Party — founded by disaffected Democrats and Republicans who think one party too liberal and the other too conservative — will boast three of the 13 independent and third-party candidates vying for statewide office.
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“Third-party candidates ... can not get caught into those hard and fast ideological positions that keep them from moving to the center if need be,” said Jim Rex, the state’s former Democratic education superintendent who co-founded the American Party with Oscar Lovelace, who unsuccessfully opposed Gov. Mark Sanford for the GOP nomination for governor in 2006.
While a candidate never has won statewide office in South Carolina without the endorsement of the state’s two major parties, this year’s third-party and petition candidates say they are serious about their races.
One American Party candidate quit her job, as a supply-chain management executive for the American Red Cross, to run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Tim Scott. Scott was appointed to fill the final two years of the term of Jim DeMint, who resigned.
Jill Bossi, who said she formerly has been a Democrat, Republican and voted for independents, said the American Party stands for term limits, working across the political aisle and ethics in government.
But she also said the American Party allows her to be her own candidate.
“They do not tell me what to think,” said Bossi, of Tega Cay. “They do not tell me how to talk. They do not tell me what I’m supposed to be in favor of or not in favor of.”
‘Doesn’t owe anyone anything’
Independent and third-party races can be “extremely difficult,” said Winthrop political scientist Karen Kedrowski, because the candidates lack the major parties’ infrastructure, credibility and organization to help mobilize voters.
But if a candidate is able to contribute large sums to his or her campaign it “certainly helps when you’re running as an independent,” said Citadel political scientist Scott Buchanan.
One independent petition candidate, Tom Ervin, is running for governor and calls himself independent Republican — a move that brought disapproval from the S.C. Republican Party.
Ervin had filed to run as a Republican against Gov. Nikki Haley in June’s GOP primary, but he withdrew, saying he wanted more time to campaign as a petition candidate. S.C. GOP chairman Matt Moore held a press conference in April and threatened to sue Ervin, a former judge and state lawmaker, for referring to himself as a Republican.
Ervin has self-financed the majority of his campaign, loaning himself about $1.5 million.
That gives him an edge, his press secretary Christian Hertenstein said.
“He may not have a pipeline of money flowing to his campaign from lobbyists and party machines, but running as an independent Republican gives him credibility when he talks about implementing tough ethics reform in Columbia because he doesn't owe anyone anything,” Hertenstein said.
Despite giving his campaign $1.5 million, Ervin only received 3 percent support among 650 registered S.C. voters who voted in at least two of the last four general elections, according to a poll conducted by Pennsylvania-based Susquehannna Polling and Research on behalf of The (Charleston) Post and Courier and three television stations. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
Ervin’s 3 percent was just a percentage point more than the 2 percent that Libertarian candidate Steve French received. French has raised much less money – just $22,125.
“I can probably count the dollars we’ve spent,” French said.
Another petition candidate, former S.C. treasurer and reality TV star Thomas Ravenel has not reported raising or spending any money. But Ravenel, who is awaiting certification of the signatures he submitted to be a petition candidate, recently said he plans to make a “serious financial commitment” to his bid for the federal office.
The millionaire developer spent nearly $3 million of his own money on his unsuccessful 2004 GOP primary run for the U.S. Senate and said he also self-financed his successful 2006 run for state treasurer.
Money is necessary to get elected to public office, but it’s not enough alone, Kedrowski said, citing other factors, including the importance of name recognition and party organizations.
“If it was as easy as who has the most money, then it would be a very simple thing to predict who is going to win elections,” she said.
Still, the third-party and independent candidates could have an influence over who wins in November, especially in the governor’s race.
In the Susquehannna poll that included French and Ervin, Republican Haley of Lexington only narrowly led her Democratic opponent, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, 46 percent to 42 percent. Six percent of those polled were undecided about the race.
French and Ervin’s combined 5 percent in the poll took away votes from Haley, Kedrowski said. But the political scientist is skeptical that the third-party and independent candidates will receive that much support in November.
Instead, she expects some of that support and most of the undecided voters to break toward the Republican Party.
A second Susquehanna poll — of 1,000 voters who voted in at least two of the last four general elections — supports that belief. With just Haley and Sheheen to choose between, the incumbent Republican led easily — by 13 percentage points.
Weak track record
Candidates have until Aug. 15 to get the nomination of another party, said Chris Whitmire with the S.C. Election Commission.
For example, United Citizens candidate Morgan Bruce Reeves is running for governor for the second time this year. In 2010, Reeves ran as the nominee of both the United Citizens and Green parties, receiving 1.5 percent of the vote.
This election, however, there will be no S.C. Green Party candidates for statewide offices or the U.S. Senate or House.
Instead, the Green Party is focusing more on local campaigns and politics, said party co-chairman Scott West.
For example, the party’s other co-chair, Sue Edward, is running for a S.C. House seat held by Republican House Speaker Bobby Harrell of Charleston, who also faces a Democratic opponent.
But even with 13 candidates on the ballot, third-party and independent candidates may not fare well in November, given their previous track record.
“Races that should have drawn some substantial third-party support — like (the) Alvin Greene Senate contest — didn’t,” Kedrowski said.
In 2010, Greene stunningly won the Democratic Party nomination for the U.S. Senate only to have it revealed that he was facing felony obscenity charges for showing pornographic photos to a University of South Carolina student.
Incumbent Republican DeMint easily won re-election against Greene.
But Greene received three times the support of the Green Party’s Tom Clements, who won 9 percent of the vote.
Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.