South Carolina Tea Party Leader Endorses One of Lindsey Graham's Challengers

South Carolina Tea Party Leader Endorses One of Lindsey Graham's Challengers

The possibility that opponents of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) will coalesce around a single challenger in the June Republican U.S. Senate primary in South Carolina took an interesting turn on Monday when an influential Tea Party leader in the state endorsed attorney Bill Connor, who has lagged in both the polls and fundraising.

In his endorsement Monday, Joe Dugan, founder of the Myrtle Beach Tea Party and executive producer of the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention, saidI have known Bill [Connor] for more than five years and believe he will never sacrifice principle over politics because those principles are embedded in his character and integrity. He has put his life on the line, out of love for country.”

Connor, an Afghanistan combat veteran and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, said “It’s an honor to have the personal endorsement of such a patriot as Joe Dugan, [who] . . .  has worked tirelessly across South Carolina over the past several years to make sure we elect true conservatives. His contribution to our team is invaluable, and we are fortunate to have him.”

On Friday, Connor was also endorsed personally by Tea Party leaders Janet Spencer of North Myrtle Beach, Charlotte Hendrix of Florence, Linda Ensor of Summerville, and Pat Dansbury of the Bluffton Tea Party in Ridgeland.

With the primary only two months away, these personal endorsements of Connor from respected Tea Party leaders from around the state come relatively late in the game. It may be a case of too little, too late for Connor to emerge as the consensus alternative to Graham.

The most recent poll, taken in February, indicates that Senator Graham has the support of about 45 percent of Republican primary voters, and is in striking distance of exceeding the magic 50 percent number in the June primary needed to avoid a runoff. 

South Carolina requires the winner of a primary to obtain more than 50 percent of the vote. In the event no candidate obtains a majority of the vote, the top two vote getters meet in a runoff primary three weeks later.

None of Senator Graham’s challengers reached double digits in that poll. State senator Lee Bright led the four challengers included in that poll with 9 percent of the vote. He was trailed by Connor, Nancy Mace, and Richard Cash. Newcomers Det Bowers and Benjamin Dunn were not included in the February poll.

However, news that his trucking business failed and owes vendors more than $1 million damaged his credibility as a fiscal conservative.

The late entry of Christian pastor Det Bowers in February raised the prospect that a money-raising front runner had emerged. In two months, Bowers, raised more than $417,000. However, Bowers’ prior association with the Democratic party (he ran South Carolina for the 1988 presidential campaign of Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis) leaves many South Carolina Republicans suspicious of his conservative bona fides.

Lacking the emergence of a single challenger to Graham behind which all opposition can unite, national groups, such as Club for Growth and the Senate Conservative Fund, have yet to make an endorsement in the South Carolina race. This is a marked contrast to two other high profile races in Kentucky and Mississippi, where the national groups have united behind a single challenger to an incumbent establishment Republican. 

In Kentucky, where the U.S. Senate Republican primary will be held on May 20, the national groups have united behind Matt Bevin, who is challenging Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY). In Mississippi, where the U.S. Senate Republican primary will be held on June 3, the national groups have united behind state senator Chris McDaniel, who is challenging Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS).