In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News, Joe Dugan, the executive producer of next month’s South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention, said that the gathering of more than 600 Tea Party activists will play a critical role in efforts to defeat incumbent Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in June’s Republican primary.
Dugan told Breitbart that he has invited Senator Graham and his four Tea Party challengers to address the convention. So far, all four challengers have accepted the invitation, but Senator Graham has not responded.
The event, co-sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks, and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, will be held in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, from January 18 to 20. Numerous national speakers, including Breitbart News Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon and retired Major General Paul Vallely will be featured.
Dugan told Breitbart that though the Tea Party has not yet coalesced around one of the four challengers, the state’s election law gives them an advantage. It specifies the top two recipients of votes must meet in a runoff election if no candidate in the primary receives 50 percent or more of all votes cast. Dugan also stated that there will be no effort at the convention to pick one of the four challengers as the Tea Party standard-bearer prior to the June primary.
“My personal position,” Dugan said, “is that because South Carolina is a runoff state, the best opportunity is for each of these candidates — Lee Bright, Bill Connor, Nancy Mace, and Richard Cash — to get as many supporters as they can [in the primary]. They have all said they will endorse and support the person who makes the runoff.”
Dugan has a plan to help the surviving Tea Party challenger win the runoff election against Graham. “This year I am asking Tea Party supporters from around the country, we would like your help when it comes to defeating Lindsey Graham. We would like you to come to South Carolina in the two weeks between the primary and the runoff. You can knock on doors here,” he stated.
Dugan also encouraged activists in other states who can not make the trip to the Palmetto State to help out by making calls from phone banks in their home states.
A recent poll suggests that the Tea Party activists who will be gathering in Myrtle Beach may have their work cut out for them. The poll, released by Gravis Marketing last week, shows that if the Republican primary election were held today, Graham would receive the support of 54 percent of likely Republican primary voters. All four of the challengers trail badly. State Senator Lee Bright trails Graham at ten percent support, Nancy Mace at six percent, Richard Cash at five percent, and Bill Connor at two percent.
The poll also suggests, however, that if the Tea Party coalesces around one candidate, Graham may be in trouble. When asked “Would you support a Tea Party challenger over Lindsey Graham?” 39 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they would support a Tea Party candidate, while 37 percent said they would support Graham.
None of the four candidates have raised much money. Only one, Bill Connor, has ever run for statewide office before. Connor, an attorney and Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, lost the Republican primary runoff for Lieutenant Governor in 2010 to Ken Ard, 61 percent to 39 percent.
State Senator Lee Bright has the most passionate supporters, enthusiastic over his strong voting record as a fiscal conservative. However, recent reports that he is $1.4 million in debt have damaged his credibility across the state. The revelations came after the Gravis Marketing poll was conducted.
First-time candidate Nancy Mace caused a splash when she announced, but the first woman graduate of the Citadel has done little to distinguish herself on the campaign trail since then.
Richard Cash, a small business owner who was the first to announce his challenge to Graham, has focused on a campaign message of “capitalism, Christianity, and the Constitution.” Cash has yet to convince a significant number of primary voters that he is the one to deliver it.
No one expects Graham to finish below first place in the June primary. The question is whether or not the four Tea Party challengers can hold him below 50 percent, and therefore force a one-on-one runoff between Graham and the second place finisher two weeks later.
Though many of the local South Carolina Tea Party and liberty groups who comprise the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition do not intend to endorse one of the four Tea Party challengers to Graham prior to the March filing deadline, or even prior to the June primary, several Washington-based conservative groups are looking at the race closely. If any of these groups choose to endorse one of the four challengers prior to the June primary, it is likely to have a significant impact on both Graham’s ability to avoid a runoff, and which one of his four challengers makes it to the runoff if he is held under 50 percent.