One week before his primary runoff, Rep. Bob Inglis is, at best, an underdog.
At worst, the South Carolina Republican is already a political dead man walking.
But instead of taking off the gloves against Spartanburg County Solicitor Trey Gowdy in the final days before the runoff, Inglis has decided to instead run against his fellow Members of Congress.
Inglis’ closing ad, which is being released Tuesday, is a one-minute appeal to voters that takes on Congress rather than the man who finished 12 points ahead of him in the June 8 primary.
“When [Rep.] Joe Wilson [R-S.C.] said You lie!’ he should have pointed at every Member of Congress,” Inglis says in ad. “Every Member of Congress knows we are headed to government bankruptcy, but they are afraid to tell you the truth for fear of losing their jobs.”
Inglis’ ad never mentions Gowdy but instead lays out his economic vision and discusses why “cowardly politics” has done little to bring about real change for the country.
“I know you want to change Washington, and I know what it will take. The truth,” Inglis says in the ad.
Inglis, whose critics have hit him for moving too far to the center in recent years, also uses the ad to let voters know that he heard them loud and clear on June 8, when he took just 28 percent of the vote to Gowdy’s 39 percent in the five-way primary.
“I’ve made mistakes,” Inglis says.
The ad represents a radical deviation from where Inglis was just a week and a half ago, when he was attacking Gowdy for waffling on his support of earmarks and for “practicing good ol’ boy politics.”
Inglis said in an interview Monday that what happened on June 8 gave him a better understanding of the anti-establishment mood of his constituents.
“We thought all along we were in a race with Trey Gowdy,” Inglis said. “I understand now that I am in a race against the whole Congress.”
Ignoring Gowdy at this point in the contest is risky — especially when some consultants believe Inglis got into his current political situation by not being negative enough and by allowing Gowdy to establish himself and define the race as a referendum on Inglis rather than a choice between the two men.
“Gowdy has gotten away without having any real plans,” said Chip Felkel, a Republican strategist based in Greenville, S.C. “All he’s had to do is not be Bob in this race. He’s offered very few specifics but has been long on rhetoric.”
But Felkel also said that going all negative may have been asking the impossible of Inglis.
Although he was known as a conservative firebrand during his first tour of Congress in the 1990s, Inglis has since adopted a more pragmatic approach to legislating. These days Inglis is a soft-spoken, polite legislator who usually carries a welcoming smile.
“Personality-wise, he doesn’t do tough well,” Felkel said, adding that Inglis likes to promote and protect his nice-guy brand.
In Monday’s interview, Inglis’ toughest shot against Gowdy nearly came off as a compliment.
“Trey Gowdy is a decent enough fella,” he said. “All of us have a little bit of opportunism in us. Maybe he’s got more than most.”
But if there’s one person who doesn’t buy Inglis’ nice-guy image, it’s Gowdy.
“The day I announced he called on me to resign and then it’s been a steady series of attacks thereafter,” Gowdy said.
And even though most everyone is predicting a Gowdy victory next week, the Spartanburg solicitor said he’s not taking anything for granted.
“We are both sitting on zero, and I am going to knock on more doors this week than last week,” he said.
Gowdy’s strategy has been to focus his efforts in Greenville County, which accounted for about 60 percent of the vote on primary day and which Inglis won by 5 points. Spartanburg County, which Gowdy won by 41 points, represented just 35 percent of the primary vote.
“I’m better known in Spartanburg. I did well in Spartanburg. [But] from a percentage standpoint, a majority of votes are in Greenville, and I’m not as well-known in Greenville,” Gowdy said.
He said he’s also reached out to the third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishers in the primary to ask for their support in the runoff. None of the three have made an endorsement, but state Sen. David Thomas, who took 13 percent in the primary, did tell a South Carolina media outlet last week that he thought Inglis should drop out of the runoff.
One South Carolina GOP consultant agreed that it’s hard to see a path to victory for Inglis at this point. He said the only thing that might help the Congressman would be a ringing endorsement from popular Sen. Jim DeMint, a national conservative champion who previously held the 4th district seat. (Inglis gave up the seat to run for Senate in 1998 and then won it back in 2004 when DeMint was elected to the Senate.)
But seeing as how DeMint is officially neutral in the race yet also seems fine with Gowdy dropping his name on the campaign trail, that scenario is unlikely.
“I think the fact that DeMint is being neutral in the race says a ton,” one Washington, D.C.-based GOP strategist said. “Inglis has strayed away from where DeMint is on the issues, and that’s probably why he’s in the trouble he’s in. … DeMint isn’t coming to the rescue.”