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Reality star with drug conviction files to run against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham

Thomas Ravenel, a once-rising GOP political star in South Carolina, seeks a comeback as an independent

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

south-carolina mugCOLUMBIA, South Carolina (CFP) — After successfully fending off a gaggle of GOP primary challengers, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham will likely face a Republican-turned-independent with a checkered and colorful past in November.

Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel

Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel

Thomas Ravenel, 51, who resigned as South Carolina state treasurer in 2007 after being arrested on cocaine distribution charges, collected more than 16,000 signatures to qualify as independent. If those signatures are certified, he will be on the ballot against Graham this fall.

Ravenel spent 10 months in federal prison on the drug charges. He is also a cast member on the Bravo network’s reality show Southern Charm.

As a convicted felon, Ravenel won’t be able to vote for himself, although federal law does not prohibit felons from running for federal office.

Speaking to reporters after delivering his petition signatures on July 14, Ravenel admitted he was an “imperfect messenger.”

“My personal life is my problem,” he said. “Lindsey Graham’s public life is your problem — everyone’s problem.”

In recent media interviews, Ravenel has touted his libertarian positions, saying one of his political causes would be drug legalization.

Ravenel hails from a prominent Charleston family and is the son of former Republican U.S. Rep. Arthur Ravenel Jr. He was considered a rising star when he was elected state treasurer in 2006, but he was forced to resign after just seven months in office after being arrested on the cocaine charges.

He also pleaded guilty to drunken driving charges in New York in 2013.

While Graham’s campaign has not commented on Ravenel’s entry into the race, the South Carolina Republican Party issued a blistering denunciation, calling his campaign a publicity stunt.

“His so-called campaign an embarrassment, and the people of South Carolina don’t appreciate it one bit,” Republican spokesman Matt Orr said in the statement.

But the Palmetto State is no stranger to political redemption. Former Governor Mark Sanford won a seat in the U.S. House in 2013 despite a messy scandal involving clandestine trips to visit an Argentinian mistress.

Graham was the No. 1 target of Tea Party and outside conservative groups who tried to oust him in June’s Republican primary. He won but with just 56 percent of the vote — potentially leaving room for a conservative independent candidate such as Ravenel.

Also in the race is Democratic State Senator Brad Hutto.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham rolls to primary victory in South Carolina

Graham avoids runoff with majority in a race against six GOP rivals

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

south-carolina mugCOLUMBIA, South Carolina (CFP) — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham — the No. 1 target of Tea Party and anti-establishment groups in this year’s GOP primaries — has easily won renomination over a field of six challengers.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

Graham took 56 percent of the vote in the June 10 Republican primary, far ahead of the second place finisher, State Senator Lee Bright of Spartanburg, who took just 15 percent. The rest of the field polled in single digits.

Graham will now face Democratic State Senator Brad Hutto of Orangeburg, who won the Democratic primary, Given the state’s strong Republican tendencies, Graham will be a prohibitive favorite.

Graham, 58, who is seeking this third term in the Senate, has run afoul of some Tea Party groups and conservative anti-establishment activists for his efforts to reach bi-partisan compromises with Democrats, including his support of an immigration reform bill that was opposed by most Republican senators.

His close political and personal friendship with U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona has also drawn fire, particularly over their blistering criticism of U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky for his filibuster over President Obama’s drone strike policy. Tea Party groups tried, and failed, to oust McCain during his 2010 re-election bid.

However, over the past year, Graham has buttressed his conservative credentials with heavy criticism of the Obama administration for its handling of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and for the IRS’s targeting of tax exempt groups.

Graham benefited from the large number of Republicans who filed to run against him, which fragmented the field and did not allow any of them to catch fire.

Fully anticipating he would be challenged in the primary, Graham also raised and spent more than $7 million, dwarfing his competitors, according to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

Graham is one of five sitting Southern Republican senators in 2014 who have drawn primary challengers backed by Tea Party and anti-establishment conservative groups. Those challenges fell short in Kentucky and Texas but in Mississippi, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran was forced into a runoff. The fifth race is in Tennessee, which doesn’t hold its primary until August.

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