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Politics: Senate candidates off and running
By Jason Lesley
Lindsey Graham raises hopes for 51 seats
Republicans have already wasted opportunities to take back the U.S. Senate by nominating inexperienced, vulnerable, Tea Party candidates who lost elections to Democrats, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham told supporters who gathered at the Hammock Shops for a rally last week.
Calling himself a “Ronald Reagan Republican,” Graham urged voters not to let that happen in South Carolina.
“Are you tired of giving away seats as Republicans?” he asked. “Do you believe we’ve given away four Senate seats in the last four years? We could be at 50. If I win my primary, the Democrats won’t spend 15 cents in South Carolina because I’ll beat their brains out and they know it.”
Dismissive of his challengers’ complaints about working across party lines on occasion, Graham said he favored growing the party with broader appeal rather than excluding people who are not considered conservative enough. “If you don’t win elections,” Graham said, “it’s all talk.”
Georgetown County Council Member Bob Anderson is supporting Graham, even though he has differences with him. “Over the last six years,” Anderson said, “I have seen him see the light, where the country is going and everything. I know I am to the right of Attila the Hun, but looking at the big picture, I agree with him on a lot of things. Why would I trade a senior senator that’s got a lot of connections and can make a lot of things happen for a freshman? I’m saying I can live with our differences. There’s not that many, so I’m totally behind him.”
Bill Judd of Murrells Inlet said he thinks Graham will overcome his challengers and return to the Senate. “I think he’s a survivor,” Judd said.
Graham said his parents ran a liquor store, a restaurant and pool room in the town of Central, near Clemson University. “I’m lucky to live in a country where your mom and dad never graduated high school,” he said, “but you can become a United States Senator. That’s something to be proud of.”
By the time he was 22, Graham had lost both parents and was left to care for a 13-year-old sister. “Her world collapsed,” he said. “We’re all Republicans, but I can tell you everybody here is one step away from needing help, one car wreck away from needing help. I want to build a Republican Party that can help people without ruining the country. If you are out of work, let’s help you get a job. If you’ve been unemployed for a year, you need some job training rather than an endless check. If you are on welfare, you need a chance to raise your family and put food on the table, but you also need the skills to get a job. The best thing you can do for someone on welfare is to create an economy where their children can get a job. We are at a point in time where 47 percent of the country is on some form of government assistance. That includes Medicare. If you are on Medicare, you earned it, you paid into it, and it’s going broke. Let’s be the kind of Republicans who say to people on Medicare we know how to fix it and we can do it without ruining your grandchildren’s future.”
Graham called his re-election campaign a referendum on conservatism. “Can you work with the other side sometimes and be conservative?” he asked. “Ronald Reagan did. Is the country more important than the party? I love my party, but I would die for my country.”
Graham reiterated his campaign’s points that he’s opposed Obamacare and argued for extending hearings into the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. “Know what I hate most about Barack Obama?” he asked. “He had a unique opportunity to bring us together, didn’t he? A lot of people were pulling for him, and instead of bringing us together he’s driven us apart.”
Graham said he would prefer to have people voting Republican rather than against the Democrats. He proposed that Tea Party Republicans, Ronald Reagan Republicans and Libertarians develop a new “Contract with America” on things they can agree: the Keystone Pipeline, flattening the tax code and repealing Obamacare. “Other than ‘Obama sucks’ what are we for?” Graham asked. “As Republicans, we need to grow this party and win elections because I’m tired of losing.”
Accompanying Graham to the rally was a political ally, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Graham called Ayotte the “Margaret Thatcher of the U.S. Senate” and the future of the Republican Party.
Ayotte, who serves on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee and a trendy vice presidential pick in 2016, said Graham makes things happen. She praised Graham for being the only senator who serves in the military reserve, for objecting to the military retiree benefit cuts in the recent budget deal and for pushing for answers about Benghazi. “We have to win this election,” Ayotte said. “If he loses this election, the Obama administration will be cheering.”
Det Bowers part of a crowded field from GOP right
Det Bowers, a Columbia minister seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, told supporters last week at the DeBordieu Beach Club that South Carolinians love an underdog and he’s the man to upset two-term incumbent Lindsey Graham in a runoff.
First, Bowers has to make his way to the front of a crowded field of challengers in the June 10 primary that includes state Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg, Easley businessman Richard Cash, Orangeburg attorney and former Army officer Bill Connor, Charleston public relations executive Nancy Mace and Columbia attorney Benjamin Dunn. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two would compete in a runoff two weeks later. All of Graham’s challengers concede that he will lead the primary voting.
“If you say you’ve got to beat Lindsey Graham, you don’t understand politics,” Bowers said. “What we’ve got to do is get in the runoff, and we’ll win this thing. One of the beauties of South Carolina is that it’s a ‘David and Goliath’ state. We just like Cinderella more than the wicked stepsisters. That’s just who we are. We’ve always been the underdog, so we pull for the underdog.”
Bowers recalled two unlikely Senate winners in making his case. He said Strom Thurmond won his first term in the U.S. Senate as a write-in candidate when the literacy rate in South Carolina was less than 30 percent. Jim DeMint defeated former governor David Beasley after trailing badly in the polls. “Gov. Beasley was way ahead,” Bowers said. “Everybody thought it was over, but what happened in that two-week runoff was that DeMint cleaned David’s plow. It wasn’t even close.”
Bowers, 62, said he is enjoying the campaign immensely and his reception around the state has been overwhelming. “People are ready,” he said. “They know what they don’t like. I just haven’t met any resistance. It’s just not there. They are not looking for negative energy; they are looking for positive energy.”
Bowers said he would be shocked if Republicans did not control the Senate within two years and expects “pragmatic conservatives” to win six races this year and change the balance of power. Bowers, a former Democrat who was chairman of Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential bid in South Carolina, quoted Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin and William Shakespeare while listing conservatives’ objections to Graham: immigration reform, votes for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees and a willingness to compromise.
Harry Butler, who organized the event at DeBordieu with 21 co-sponsors, said he got to know Bowers after his son received “a tremendous blessing” from a mid-week Bible study at his church in Columbia. He said Bowers was a Democrat during his 20-year career as a lawyer and switched parties after he became a Christian and left the law for the ministry.
“We are never going to change the direction of this country or the circumstances that we all detest that are happening in this country until we change the character of the people we send to Washington to represent us,” Butler said. “For too long, all we have been able to see is the conduct of men past and present who are in positions of leadership who are no leaders. What we need are leaders. We need men who understand what it is to do what is right even when it’s difficult, men willing to take a stand when they see things going in the wrong direction.”
Butler said Bowers is “scary smart” and was an excellent trial lawyer. He committed to Christianity by quitting his law practice and going to seminary. Dr. Ralph Sprinkle said he likes Bowers’ platform. “He’s truly a conservative,” Sprinkle said, “the key word being truly. I like his background of ministry, attorney and now politician, and because politician came last– he’s had good training.”
Bowers said he would never apologize for American exceptionalism and tried to differentiate himself from the other challengers. “I’m not running against Lindsey Graham,” Bowers said. “I’m running for America, for you and your children. He said he would never vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, and government agencies should be required to get a warrant before checking a citizen’s records. He said he would have opposed Supreme Court nominees Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. “They don’t think like we think,” he said, “neither socially nor fiscally.” He objected to the Senate’s approval of Eric Holder as attorney general and Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. “I would have never voted to approve Eric Holder as the 82nd attorney general,” Bowers said, “and the Senate had to vote. Look and see who he represented, and they don’t look like our state because they are not. We cannot afford people like that in office. I would not have voted for Sen. Clinton to be secretary of state. Why? Because it positions her to be the next president. Everyone you put in office you are positioning them for greater office. Just think. The differences are significant.”
Bowers said there’s a theory in Washington that penalizing the rich will make the economy better. “Our position,” he said, “is that if you make the rich poor then nobody has anything. What we want to do is make the poor rich. It’s a win-win. Our energy is positive. They think that negative energy will sap the life out of us, and we’ll just give up.”
Bowers called South Carolina the jewel of the 50 states. “That’s why you’re here,” he told the supporters. “If we could make Washington look like South Carolina, how great would this nation be? But Washington wants South Carolina to look like D.C. We’re not going to allow that. That’s not an option for us, and we will fight them till there’s nothing left in us. South Carolina has been known to fight on occasion, and there’s still a lot of fight in us.
“We can build a national consensus beginning in South Carolina. People will follow courage. If we take a message with integrity, character and virtue they can’t help but listen. It’s a new day in America. The son of righteousness has risen with healing in his wings. We can do away with all divisions out there if we’ll walk together.”
New party challenges newest senator
Jill Bossi says there is enough common ground among voters to elect a government that works. The former American Red Cross executive is running as the newly formed American Party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Tim Scott.
“My candidacy,” Bossi said during a campaign visit to Hopsewee Plantation last week, “is all about term limits, transparency and ethics, but also about being able to dialogue with one another finding the things we agree on and not necessarily the things we disagree on. It’s trying to work and get things accomplished together. Term limits will change the landscape in D.C., force people to become real public servants, force them to think about what they can do, not about how to get re-elected.”
The American Party was founded by Jim Rex of Columbia, a former Democratic state superintendent of education, and Dr. Oscar Lovelace, a Republican from Prosperity who ran against Mark Sanford for Congress in 2006.
“The medium was the message when this thing first started,” said Rex, who accompanied Bossi to Hopsewee Plantation, “a visible Democrat and a visible Republican saying this isn’t working any more. This tribal warfare we’ve got and the divided nation we have is hurting us. There has got to be a better way. It took 10,000 signatures to get on the ballot. We got 16,000 in a short period of time and heard a sampling of frustration, disappointment and anger as we talked to people around the state. It was a real interesting cross section of our fellow Carolinians.”
Rex said the American Party is a different approach to politics, requiring term limits not to exceed 12 years and total disclosure of income and its sources. “The party will enforce it if they change their minds,” Rex said. American Party candidates will not allow issues like abortion, gun control, gay rights, and religion in schools to carry them off their message about preparing the nation for global competition. “If you bring up one of those ‘red meat’ issues that politicians use to divide us,” Rex said, “our candidates will say what they personally believe — the truth — and second, how they would vote but will quickly follow by saying if you are going to cast your vote on the basis of one issue this is not your candidate, this is not your party. Jill is Exhibit A as far as I’m concerned as what we’re trying to do.”
Bossi said Sen. Lindsey Graham has been trying to get things accomplished in Washington, turning many in his own party against him. “He’s running a primary race with so many contesting him because he is being moderate,” she said. “That’s exactly the reason I’m running against Tim Scott because I see him as being too far to the right. He selected that direction for convenience in some ways when he was appointed to the position. The vast majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle. That’s where I want to focus, where we have agreement.”
As chief procurement officer for the Red Cross, Bossi said she had to work with stakeholders, suppliers and donors to find a way “where everybody came away with something they could live with.” She said that win-win scenario is not impossible in politics.
“That’s what I’m hoping I can do, bring that dialogue, understand why you feel that way.”
Bossi said her background in business — she has worked for Bank of America and Verizon Wireless among others — will make her a better senator. “In corporate America,” she said, “you deal with politics all the time. You have to be careful about what you say, who you say it to, when you say it. You don’t think about it in the same vein as the political environment in Washington, but the skill sets, the ability to work with people, see through the fog are all very similar. I can apply a lot of my business acumen to what I’m trying to do. If Obamacare had been done in business, the person who ran it would have been fired. It was poorly executed. It’s not a bad idea. Instead of working together, they kind of ram-rodded it through so that made the opposition even more upset. We’re polarized and not making any progress, not a good place to be.”
She said she saw the great recession coming while she was working for Bank of America and regulators failed to do their jobs. When she worked for the Red Cross, she saw how over-regulation by the Food and Drug Administration costs the organization millions of dollars in the operation of its blood bank. As a senator, Bossi said she would work toward a simpler tax system, a balanced budget and an economy that creates jobs.
Candidates will be officially nominated at the American Party convention in May and will not run in a primary. They are assured of being on the November ballot. Rex called Bossi’s candidacy historic. “No woman has ever been elected to the Senate from South Carolina,” he said. “She had a high-profile, significant role in the Red Cross and spent a lot of time in Washington. That’s one reason she’s fed up like all of us. She quit the Red Cross last week so she could run full time for the U.S. Senate. What a decision.”