SC Senate Primary: The REAL Winners

Digital Image by Sean Locke Digital Planet Design www.digitalplanetdesign.comThe South Carolina Republican Primary for U.S. Senate went pretty much as expected.  Incumbent Lindsey Graham beat six ill-prepared, unimpressive challengers rather handily.  With over 56% of the votes cast, Graham avoided a run-off and will likely cruise to re-election in November.  But there were others in the race who won even more significantly.

Every candidate for public office will tell you that there is much more work involved than is generally realized.  It’s not just the long hours on the road, meeting people in groups from a hand full to the room full, begging for money, etc.  But working out the strategy for appealing to voters, crafting a vibrant message and developing a marketing plan are all essential, particularly in the age of the Digital Stump and even more so when your main opponent has an eight-figure war chest.

Enter … The Consultant.

Consultants help candidates for federal, state and even local offices navigate through political, legislative, and media regulations. There’s also campaign strategy, polling, marketing and, of course, fund-raising.  And they ain’t cheap.

In looking at the candidate filing records for the SC GOP Senate primary posted at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) website, the extent of consultant expenditures becomes evident.  But even more enlightening is the application of those fees to the outcome.

Here, using candidate-provided figures as filed with the FEC, is a the breakdown of consulting costs and votes received by/for the seven primary candidates.

Candidate % of Votes # of Votes Operating Expenses Consulting Expenses % of Expenses Consulting Cost / Vote
Det Bowers 7.32% 23,239 $248,194 $39,871 16% $1.71
Lee Bright 15.41% 48,959 $287,782 $106,608 37% $2.18
Richard Cash 8.29% 26,350 $508,853 $  15,682  3% $  .59
Bill Connor 5.33% 16,932 $135,311 $46,562 34% $2.75
Benjamin Dunn 1.01% 3,215 $11,943  N/A     –
Lindsey Graham 56.44% 179,302 $6,993,775 $478,820 7% $2.67
Nancy Mace 6.19% 19,665 $496.490 $153,633 31% $7.81
TOTAL 317,662 $841,176 $2.64

(Benjamin Dunn’s filings did not include a breakdown of his operating expenses, but given that his total – $11,943 – is equal to what Lindsey Graham probably left in tips to the open bar staff, it’s irrelevant.)

Over $840,000 was spent just on consultants in a primary in little ol” South Carolina!

But that isn’t the fun part of these numbers.  The money the losers paid out to consultants make them even bigger losers and causes one to question their intent if not their intelligence.

Nancy Mace (did you know she was the first woman to graduate The Citadel?), finished 5th in the seven-candidate field and recorded nearly a half a million dollars in expenditures.  Nearly a third of that – $153,633 – went to her consultants.  That comes to $7.81 per vote, out doing the next highest candidate (Bill Connor) by $5/vote.

Although his per vote consultant cost was the third highest ($2.67), Lindsey Graham’s payouts were 57% of what all seven candidates spent.  In fact, what Graham paid for advisers was nearly as much as Mace and Richard Cash each spent in total.  But then, with operating expenses of $5 million, that’s almost frugal especially since his consulting were just 7% his operating costs.

What’s the point of all this arithmetic? Conventional wisdom is that most of the six challengers (Bowers and Dunn excluded) were all parts of a Tea Party strategy to keep Graham from reaching 50% and forcing a runoff.  Once in the runoff, the rest would rally behind Graham’s opponent and take the nomination.  Sounds pretty good, but not in retrospect.

First, “Tea Party” and “strategy” aren’t complimentary terms.  Despite what happened to Eric Cantor, this primary is further proof that the Tea Party is more a movement than an entity.  Cantor’s defeat was less likely to Tea Party opposition than it was to Democrats voting in the Republican open primary.   South Carolina also has an open primary, but there aren’t enough Democrats to make a difference.  Further, Democrats in the Palmetto State are about as organized as the Tea Party and not nearly as motivated.  In South Carolina, Tea Party folk run more on emotion and hope than on tactics and practicality. Besides, for most of Graham’s challengers, ego would hardly allow for a conspiracy.

The Devil Whispering in Your EarCould it be that those who most encouraged Lee Bright, Richard Cash, Nancy Mace and Bill Connor to run were the consultants?  Feeding off Tea Party fervor, aspects of Graham’s record and South Carolina’s notorious rebelliousness, might consulting firms have whispered in these candidates’ ears, convincing them he or she could be a United States Senator?  They helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and took a bunch of that in return, so consultants might well have created their own clientele.

This particular primary was especially advantageous for consultants.  They cast their line into a pool of small, but hungry fish and pulled out not just one or two, but several catches.

Bless their hearts.  Those candidates were never running against Lindsey Graham.  They were running against themselves and didn’t know it.

I don’t begrudge someone making a living and I sure don’t want to discourage good people from public service.  But it would be in the best interest of those good people – and the voters – if they think less from ego and unbridled passion and a little more from practicality and common sense.

Therein a difference between winners and losers.




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