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South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s critics line up to take him on in GOP primary

A crowded primary field, with three candidates in the race so far, could help the veteran Republican senator survive by dividing the anti-Graham vote

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

south-carolina mugCOLUMBIA, S.C. (CFP) — U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s maverick ways have already drawn him not one, not two, but three challengers in the 2014 Republican primary — a crowded field that could help the senator survive by dividing the anti-Graham vote.

Senate challenger Lee Bright

Senate challenger Lee Bright

The latest challenger, State Senator Lee Bright of Roebuck, valuted into the GOP primary on August 13 by calling Graham “a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood” — a rather opaque reference to Graham’s recent high-profile trip to Egypt with his close friend, Senator John McCain of Arizona.

McCain and Graham went to Egypt at the behest of President Barack Obama to meet with Egyptian officials after the miliatary’s recent overthrow of the elected government of President Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Bright, a Tea Party-linked libertarian candidate, has had a colorful legislative career in Columbia, introduciing bills to make it a crime to enforce Obamacare in the Palmetto State and to exempt South Carolina from federal gun regulations. He’s also advocated that his state consider adopting its own currency.
Indeed, Bright’s legislative career has been so colorful that he drew a serious primary challenge in 2012, which he managed to survive.

Also in the race is Nancy Mace, a Charleston businesswoman who has been having to answer questions about her role as part ownner of FITSNews, a irreverant Web site mixing South Carolina news with pop culture.

The site is run by Will Folks, who in 2010 claimed to have had an affair with Republican Governor Nikki Haley, which Haley vehemently denied.

Mace, who was the first female graduate of The Citadel, also claims Tea Party support, including a recent endorsement by the Tea Party Leadership Fund, a national group.

The third candidate in the race — so far — is Richard Cash, from Anderson County, an evangelical Christian missionary who owns a used car business and a fleet of ice cream trucks. On his Web site, he says “the origins and foundation of American greatness lies in Christianity, Capitalism, and the Constitution.”

Cash ran for the 3rd District U.S. House seat in 2010, winning the first round of the primary before losing the runoff to the eventual winner, Rep. Jeff Duncan.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

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

His close political and personal friendship with McCain has also drawn fire, particularly over their blistering criticism of Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky for his filibuster over 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 been highly critical 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 has said that he expects a vigorous primary challenge and has already raised more than $6 million for his 2014 campaign. A colonel in the Air Force Reserve, his staunchly pro-military stands could also serve him well among an important constituency in his native state.

A crowded GOP primary field would seem to help Graham by dividing the opposition arrayed against him. However, South Carolina has a runoff system for its primaries, which means that if the anti-Graham field can keep him under 50 percent, he would have to face the second place finisher in a runoff.

On the Democratic side, the only announced candidate so far is Jay Stamper, 41, of Columbia, the managing director of a non-profit business development group.

Given South Carolina’s staunch Republican tendencies, the winner of the GOP primary will be considered a prohibitive favorite in November.

Arkansas Senate race awash in money 15 months out

Senator Mark Pryor and his expected challenger, Congressman Tom Cotton, are raising millions, while outside groups pour money with abandon into Arkansas.

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — More than 15 months before a single vote is cast for the U.S. Senate — indeed, before Arkansans even know for sure who will be running — outside groups from both sides of the political aisle have already dumped more than $1 million in ads onto TV viewers across the Natural State.

This spending wave is even more striking considering that Arkansas is the second-smallest Southern state, with fewer than 3 million people, and has only two major television markets.


Senator Mark Pryor

Incumbent Senator Mark Pryor, considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the 2014 election cycle, raised $1.2 million in the second quarter of 2013, with nearly $4 million in the bank, according to figures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

However, Pryor has already had to go up on TV to counter a negative ad from New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which poured $350,000 into Arkansas earlier this year.

Bloomberg’s spots lambasted Pryor for his vote against President Obama’s call for expanded background checks for gun purchases. In his reponse, Pryor said he was defending the Second Amendment against a proposal that wouldn’t have prevented any of the recent mass shootings.

All told, Pryor spent $700,000 in the second quarter, or nearly 60 percent of what he managed to raise during that period.


Representative Tom Cotton

Meanwhile, the man considered to Pryor’s likely GOP opponent, Representative Tom Cotton of Dardanelle, raised $611,000 during the second quarter and now has slightly more than $1 million in the bank.

Cotton, an Iraq war veteran in just his first term in the House, has been playing coy about whether he’ll give up his safe 4th District seat to challenge Pryor. He says he won’t make an annoucement on his plans until after the August congressional recess.

But national Democratic groups clearly think Cotton will run. In a pre-emptive strike, two outside liberal groups, Patriot Majority USA and the Senate Majority PAC, pummeled Cotton with $308,000 worth of TV attacks earlier this summer.

So far, Cotton has not felt the need to rebut those spots with ads of his own.

Another member of the state’s congressional delegation, Representative Steve Womack of Rogers, has said he, too, might run against Pryor.  In the second quarter, Womack raised $123,000 with $600,000 on hand, putting him well behind Cotton.

A GOP primary is considered unlikely. Womack, who has been in the House since 2011, is not expected to make the Senate race if Cotton runs.

Pryor, scion of one of Arkansas’ most prominent political families, barely faced opposition when he ran for a second term in 2008. But Republicans are smelling blood in the water this time around, largely because of the senator’s vote in favor of Obamacare in 2009.

Obama is deeply unpopular in Arkansas, losing the state by 23 points in 2012.

Two outside conservative groups, the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Action, have already spent more than $500,000 in negative ads against Pryor.

The Club for Growth was one of Cotton’s major financial backers in his successful House race in 2012.

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