Coming off a closely fought Republican Senate primary loss of his own, Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Toomey (R) has taken a lead role in trying to put South Carolina Rep. Jim DeMint (R) over the top in next Tuesday’s runoff against former Gov. David Beasley.
“My experience was one of getting incredibly close when many people didn’t think we had a chance,” said Toomey. “To the extent I can hold that out to people as what we don’t want to happen here [I am].”
Toomey came within 2 points of defeating Sen. Arlen Specter in late April. He said that throughout that process he and DeMint “shared ideas back and forth” about running statewide.
DeMint campaign manager Terry Sullivan called Toomey a “rock star” for his work on behalf of the South Carolina Congressman.
The Pennsylvania Republican has contributed to DeMint from his own campaign committee as well solicited donations from organizations and individuals that gave to his Senate bid.
He has also been the chief lobbyist of Members on DeMint’s behalf, especially among the conservative Republican Study Committee, to which both men belong.
RSC Chairwoman Sue Myrick (N.C.) held a fundraiser in Rock Hill, S.C., for DeMint early this year and said several other members of the group have either campaigned on DeMint’s behalf or donated to his effort.
“We want to help our members running for other offices,” Myrick said.
DeMint has also received significant aid from a number of Senators, including Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), who serves as finance chairman of DeMint’s political action committee fundraising efforts, and Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), who stumped for the Congressman in the state’s most conservative northern reaches the weekend before the June 8 Republican primary.
A three-term House Member representing the Greenville-based 4th district, DeMint finished second behind Beasley on June 8 but the former governor received 37 percent, far less than the 50 percent he needed to avoid a two-week runoff contest for the nomination.
State Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum easily won the Democratic nomination.
Even as DeMint enjoys nearly unanimous support from his colleagues and would-be colleagues, Beasley remains a potent political force in the state, as evidenced by his victories in 37 of the state’s 45 counties in the six-way primary.
Just six days before Republican voters make their choices, the two candidates are fighting for both the message and the momentum in the race.
DeMint’s campaign casts the contest as a question of values, arguing that Beasley’s multiple positions on whether to fly the Confederate flag over the state Capitol and his stance on a state lottery show that he lacks integrity.
“Character is important,” said Sullivan. “If this race is a referendum on that we win hands down.”
That message is pushed in DeMint’s first ad of the runoff, which features two older men debating whether the former governor is a “flip flopper” or “wishy washy” on the flag and the lottery.
For Beasley, the choice in the runoff comes down to a single issue: trade.
DeMint’s vote to give President Bush expanded authority to negotiate trade pacts has led to the loss of jobs in the state, argues Beasley, who has portrayed himself as a protectionist.
“The last thing they want is for the campaign to be decided on issues,” said Beasley consultant Richard Quinn. “These negative personal attacks are to take attention away from a focus on issues.”
Quinn adds that if DeMint is the nominee, his stance on trade could hamstring Republicans chances against Tenenbaum. He called trade a “loser” issue for Palmetto State Republicans.
Attempting to hammer home that theme, Beasley is currently running an ad that centers on a testimonial from a worker whose job was outsourced.
A second ad shows Beasley talking to the camera about how much he learned from his 1998 gubernatorial loss at the hands of Democrat Jim Hodges.
In many ways, the manner in which the two campaigns have interpreted that defeat has determined their runoff strategies.
For Beasley’s team, his loss was a “fluke,” attributable to the tens of millions of dollars spent by gaming interests.
As evidence, Quinn pointed out that Beasley received 16,000 more votes in his 1998 loss than he did in 1994, when he won.
DeMint’s camp sees the 1998 result as a stunning repudiation of Beasley, who became the first South Carolina governor to lose a re-election bid.
Both sides cited polling numbers that show that their strategy is paying off.
A Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted for DeMint on June 10, 13 and 14 showed him with a 46 percent to 42 percent lead among the 700 likely primary voters tested.
One week earlier, DeMint had trailed Beasley 48 percent to 42 percent in the POS polling and a month ago the Congressman was behind 54 percent to 33 percent.
“After an initial bump right after the primary, Beasley’s support is trending sharply down,” concluded DeMint pollster Glen Bolger.
Much of DeMint’s supposed advantage comes thanks to a wide 23 percent bulge over Beasley in the Lowcountry, which is anchored in Charleston and where neither candidate has an established political base.
Quinn said that the Lowcountry has always been “fickle” but that “we will do well enough on the coast.”
DeMint has also opened up a lead Upstate, his geographic base, after losing that area by a slight margin to Beasley in the primary.
Beasley’s polling, which is being handled by Quinn, paints a vastly different picture.
In the Quinn poll, which tested 300 likely voters on June 10, Beasley held a 9-point lead over DeMint and was just 3 percent from the all-important 50 percent mark.
“Polling has consistently shown that even before the June 8 primary, Beasley was the second favorite choice of [the primary’s third- place finisher Thomas] Ravenel and DeMint supporters,” Quinn said.