Pastor joins crowded GOP race to unseat Lindsey Graham
February 4th, 2014
12:45 PM ET
3 months ago

Pastor joins crowded GOP race to unseat Lindsey Graham

Washington (CNN) – The already-crowded race to unseat South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is about to get another candidate.

Det Bowers, a well-connected Columbia pastor known for his oratory, put weeks of rumors to rest on Monday and said he is joining the five-person Republican Senate primary field.

“No question,” Bowers told CNN in a phone interview. “I am definitely running.”

Bowers said he filed fundraising paperwork with the Federal Election Commission in recent days and plans to make a formal announcement about his campaign soon. He also commiserated with donors in Washington and Texas last month, people close to him said.

“I understand the complexity of the task, but have every confidence this is exactly what I ought to be doing this season,” Bowers said.

The task of beating Graham, while complex, is not as impossible as Graham’s allies have made it seem, derisively referring to his primary opponents in private as “the clown car.”

Despite having a long list of powerful friends and mounds of campaign cash – he reported more than $7 million last month - Graham’s vulnerability in this June’s Republican primary is an open secret in South Carolina.

Public polling has been spotty, but insiders are currently pegging Graham’s vote ceiling a primary somewhere in the low to mid-40s. And while two of the state’s senior-most Republicans, Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott, have had kind words for Graham, they have declined to formally endorse his re-election bid.

Conservative activists in the state tried and failed to defeat Graham during his last re-election bid in 2008, citing a range of ideological pock marks, chief among them his vocal support for comprehensive immigration reform. He’s facing the same doubts from the right this year, along with questions about his votes in favor of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees.

Who can beat Lindsey Graham?

But several brand-name Republicans, including South Carolina congressmen Mick Mulvaney and Trey Gowdy, have shied away from challenging the wily Graham in the primary, leaving a tier of lesser-known candidates who have struggled to raise money and secure the backing of outside conservative outfits eager to unseat Graham, groups like the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks.

None of the four candidates gunning to beat him – businesswoman Nancy Mace, state Sen. Lee Bright, activist Richard Cash and attorney Bill Connor - have displayed the kind of political touch or fundraising muscle required to oust the two-term Senator.

The addition of Bowers to an already-splintered field makes the prospect of forcing Graham in a one-on-one runoff even more likely. If no candidate clears 50% in the primary this summer, the top two finishers will face each other in a two-week runoff election. The winner of the nomination is expected to cruise to victory in November in the Republican-leaning state.

South Carolina holds open Republican primaries, meaning Graham could potentially try to bring sympathetic Democrats and independents into the fold come June. But with no other heated primary contests on the ballot this year, GOP turnout is expected to be low, a scenario that would theoretically favor a challenger backed by die-hard conservative voters.

Bowers said he plans to make an issue of Graham’s support for “amnesty,” the conservative byword for a path to American citizenship favored by immigration reform advocates who want to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and into the economy.

He also acknowledged the challenge of raising enough money to compete with Graham, but said he has secured financial commitments from donors.

Informed of Bowers’ decision, Graham supporters were quick to highlight Bowers’ past support for Democratic candidates. Bowers was the chairman of Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential bid in South Carolina.

“Det’s a former a Democratic political operative and pretty good at it, except for running Dukakis’s campaign in South Carolina. But he’s a known commodity in the Democratic world,” said Katon Dawson, a South Carolina GOP fixer who is running a super PAC supporting Graham.

“That being said, he’s moved into an evangelical world and will easily be able to wash off the Democratic stuff by being pro-life and speaking from the pulpit," Dawson added. "It’s going to be a competition.”


Filed under: Lindsey Graham • Senate • South Carolina
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. rs

    Circle the troops and fire!

    February 4, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  2. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Good! Let all these head cases pummel themselves into the ground and vote in DEMOCRATS!

    February 4, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  3. Al-NY,NY

    rs

    Circle the troops and fire!
    ----

    wait! I need to get my popcorn out of the microwave first

    February 4, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  4. Sniffit

    I foresee Miss Lindsey's fainting couch being very busy this year...

    February 4, 2014 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  5. just asking

    why are we still wasting money on elections for senators and representatives? obama has said he doesn't need them to take action. he's going to do it all with executive orders. if this is the case, can obama request all of the democrat senators resign and save the government money since they aren't doing anything thanks to do-nothing democrat harry reid.

    February 4, 2014 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  6. Fair is Fair

    Rotsa ruck.

    February 4, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  7. quinLee

    I don't think Graham will be defeated. However, when he and others like Mitch are considered "not conservative enough", you know the GOP has fallen of the right side of flat earth.

    February 4, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  8. Rick McDaniel

    Well, he won't get my vote. I believe in the separation of church and state, and I will never vote for any clergy for public office.

    February 4, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  9. uncommon sense

    The sharks are circling, and we too see the clown car.

    February 4, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  10. Silence DoGood

    "“That being said, he’s moved into an evangelical world and will easily be able to wash off the Democratic stuff by being pro-life and speaking from the pulpit,"
    Compare this to what the Founders of this country said:
    “The civil government functions with complete success by the total separation of the Church from the State.”
    ~James Madison, 1819

    February 4, 2014 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  11. Tom

    Clearly Republicans have learned nothing from the 2012 GOP Presidential primary. A large field of ultra-conservative candidates winds up looking like an audition to crown the next crazy Republican to get a show on conservative media. When each candidate is trying to position themselves as being the most extreme, it drags the whole group to the far right, making the Democratic challenger look pretty good by comparison. It also forces each candidate to spend a tremendous amount of money just to survive the primary, leaving less to spend during the general election.

    February 4, 2014 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  12. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    @Rick McDaniel
    Well, he won't get my vote. I believe in the separation of church and state, and I will never vote for any clergy for public office.

    We finally agree on something!

    February 4, 2014 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  13. Gary

    Good for you Just Asking. Keeping true to the playbook. A story about a republican primary election and you manage to get your Fox nonsence into it. You forgot to scream "Bengahzi".

    February 4, 2014 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  14. Winston Smith

    No. 1, Keep religion and politics as far apart as humanly possible. No 2, see No 1.

    February 4, 2014 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  15. Warren

    just asking
    why are we still wasting money on elections for senators and representatives? obama has said he doesn't need them to take action. he's going to do it all with executive orders. if this is the case, can obama request all of the democrat senators resign and save the government money since they aren't doing anything thanks to do-nothing democrat harry reid.

    You have the wrong party listed buddy. We need all the Republicans out, so we Democrats can get so work done....

    February 4, 2014 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  16. Thomas

    @Rick McDaniel
    Well, he won't get my vote. I believe in the separation of church and state, and I will never vote for any clergy for public office.
    ======

    We both agree on something !

    February 4, 2014 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  17. Rusty Krus

    @Gary
    Good for you Just Asking. Keeping true to the playbook. A story about a republican primary election and you manage to get your Fox nonsence into it. You forgot to scream "Bengahzi".

    Just Asking/Just Saying/Freedom, or whatever name he is hiding behind today is pathetic. He simply spews venom that aren't based in facts.

    February 4, 2014 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |