Runoff Rumblings: Is South Carolina Next?
Earlier this summer a federal judge ordered the state of Georgia to move its primary elections from mid-July to June 3 – which means participants in runoff elections will have more than two months (as opposed to three weeks) to make their cases to voters.
According to U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, Georgia’s three week runoff did not provide adequate time for military personnel serving overseas to cast their ballots.
Could a similar situation soon unfold in South Carolina? And if so, how would such a decision impact the 2014 U.S. Senate race between incumbent liberal Lindsey Graham and his three announced challengers – Charleston businesswoman Nancy Mace, S.C. Sen. Lee Bright and social conservative Richard Cash?
Under South Carolina law primary elections are held on the second tuesday of June. If no candidate receives more than fifty percent of the ballots in a primary race, a runoff election is held two weeks later.
Graham’s opponents are counting on a runoff as they seek to unseat him in 2014 – hoping fiscally conservative, independent voters will rally around whichever one of his opponents receives the most votes in the primary election. Those hopes are well-founded, too, as Graham’s allegiance to liberal U.S. President Barack Obama on a wide range of issues (tax hikes, amnesty, domestic spying, etc.) have made him exceedingly vulnerable – especially in a head-to-head matchup against a more conservative candidate.
But how would a two-month runoff campaign against Graham differ from a two-week campaign? Would such an extended runoff election enable his GOP opponent more time to make the case against the incumbent “Republican in Name Only?” Or would the extra time benefit Graham given his massive cash advantage?
Graham’s special interest-fed campaign has more than $6.2 million on hand to spend on his reelection bid – and millions more special interest dollars are likely to flow from national GOP establishment groups and third party independent expenditure organizations.
Meanwhile national conservative groups are likely to spend millions of dollars in an effort to defeat Graham in the event a credible alternative emerges.
We believe an extended runoff election would benefit Graham – making an already difficult financial hurdle even harder for his opponents to clear (by extending the amount of time they would have to purchase advertisements and maintain a grassroots presence in the state). It would also give Graham additional time to try and rehabilitate himself with the GOP electorate.
On the other hand a two week runoff minimizes Graham’s cash advantage – as well as his ability to respond to (and recover from) effective critiques of his liberal record.
For these reasons, we expect Team Graham to push for an extended U.S. Senate primary race in South Carolina.