South Carolina Scrum Intensifies
With Condon’s D.C. Fundraiser, GOP Senate Battle Heats Up Further
After several months of relative calm, the Republican Senate primary in South Carolina has heated up in recent weeks, with the possible entrance of a former governor into the fray and a competitive fight for support inside the Beltway between the two leading candidates.
Former state Attorney General Charlie Condon (R) will hold his first Washington, D.C., fundraiser Wednesday night with National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.) and Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and John Cornyn (Texas) as co-hosts.
“Now that people are seeing that the primary is very competitive I am starting to get some attention” in Washington, Condon said.
Republican officials dismissed the significance of Allen’s presence on the invitation. They noted that the Virginia Senator had done a June 11 D.C. fundraiser for the other leading contender, Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), and that he has several more money-gathering events with the Congressman planned in the next few months.
The Condon fundraiser comes amid rampant speculation that former Gov. David Beasley (R) may also enter the Senate race.
Beasley served as the Palmetto State’s top elected official from 1994 to 1998, when he lost his re-election bid to then-state Sen. Jim Hodges (D).
He would join DeMint, Condon, Charleston developer Thomas Ravenel and Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride in the race on the Republican side.
Democrats have largely coalesced behind state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum, although Marcus Belk, the coordinator of the now-defunct movement to draft imprisoned former Rep. James Traficant (Ohio) into the presidential race, is also in the running.
Although Beasley has remained largely silent on the issues, political consultant Richard Quinn is pushing his candidacy and has conducted a poll showing the former governor leading the Republican field with 24 percent of the vote.
In that survey, former Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler, who has since decided against the race, took 16 percent, while DeMint and Condon each received 8 percent.
Much of Beasley’s lead at this early stage of the process is likely attributable to his high name identification gleaned from four years in statewide office.
Several state observers speculated that Quinn, who could not be reached at press time, is looking for a candidate to work with in the Senate race after he and Condon parted ways earlier this year. Red Sea is now handling Condon’s polling and media.
Despite the poll results, national Republicans are less than enthused about a Beasley Senate candidacy, citing the weak re-election race he ran in 1998.
In that contest, Beasley was dogged by his repeated indecision over whether to fly the Confederate flag over the statehouse and rumors about his personal life.
“Obviously David Beasley is well-known and would be a formidable opponent,” said Terry Sullivan, campaign manager for DeMint. “That said, we are keeping our heads down and raising money.”
DeMint led the field in that aspect through September, with more than $1.4 million raised so far this year — roughly $250,000 of which came from political action committees. He ended the quarter with $1.1 million in the bank.
In his three House campaigns, DeMint did not accept political action committee donations but reversed course when he decided to run for the Senate, citing the need to be financially competitive.
DeMint has received donations from 17 Members of the House and Senate.
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) has been the biggest single donor, giving $10,000 from his Battle Born leadership PAC and another $2,000 from his personal campaign committee.
Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) have also given to DeMint’s Senate committee.
Sullivan said that Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) hosted fundraisers for DeMint earlier this year.
Former Reps. Bob Livingston (R-La.) and Dick Armey (R-Texas) are also backing DeMint. Armey will travel to Spartanburg on Dec. 2 and 3 to hold a fundraiser and participate in an issues conference on Social Security reform.
Condon has raised a solid $862,000 over the first nine months of the year with just $7,500 of that total coming from PACs. He has received donations from the influential Washington-based Club for Growth (as has DeMint) and former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), however.
DeMint allies note that because of the $1 million personal donation that Ravenel made to his campaign just prior to the June 30 Federal Election Commission filing deadline, which triggered the millionaire’s amendment that lifts the ceiling on contributions for opponents, Condon was able to go back to many of his previous contributors for an additional $2,000. This circumstance, they argue, boosted his total.
Even so, Condon has remained competitive with DeMint in the fundraising arena, bringing in just $15,000 less than the Congressman from July 1 to Sept. 30. Ravenel raised just $104,000 in the period and had $649,000 left to spend.
Condon said he originally misjudged the influence that Washington could have on creating perceptions about the Senate contest. At first, DeMint was considered the heavy favorite for the GOP nomination.
“I was a bit stunned at the feel I had gotten early on that the primary was over,” Condon acknowledged. “Jim DeMint has done a good job of working the D.C. network.
“I have come to learn there are two different races going on,” he added.
Two of the hosts of Wednesday’s fundraiser here, Sessions and Cornyn, served in the National Association of Attorneys General with Condon, who has no prior relationship with Allen.
Condon was the state’s top cop from 1994 to 2002, when he ran for governor. He placed a distant third in the Republican race, taking 16 percent. He went on to endorse now-Gov. Mark Sanford (R) in the runoff, and Sanford later signed a mail piece aimed at helping Condon erase his gubernatorial debt.
Sullivan offered Condon mock congratulations about the D.C. event, adding: “I’m surprised he hasn’t had more support in Washington.”
Another DeMint ally, prominent GOP consultant Warren Tomkins, was more direct.
“The Condon campaign looks for anything and everything to call good news,” he said.