The S.C. Democratic Party establishment has never been particularly fond of Jay Stamper, the carpetbagging Democrat on a hopeless mission to replace U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. But following Jaime Harrison’s blowup with Stamper last month on gay marriage and his subsequent social media meltdown, Harrison is on a jihad to recruit a candidate to primary Stamper.
If Graham’s No. 1 tea party challenger Lee Bright is smart (which of course he isn’t) he’s crossing his fingers that Harrison succeeds.
Why? If no one challenges Stamper there is no Democratic primary – and Democrats will cross over and vote in the GOP primary instead for Lindsey Graham (viewing him the lesser-of-four-republican evils). But if Stamper faces a serious primary challenger, Dems won’t vote for Graham, they’ll vote in their own contested primary. That’s bad news for Graham because it means he’s less likely to get the 50 percent-plus-one needed to avoid a runoff against Bright. If there’s a runoff between Bright and Graham, the tea party will rally and Bright may very well be the Republican nominee. Bright versus any Democrat, Bright wins. Bottom line: Harrison’s grudge against Stamper may end up adding another tea party nutcase to the US Senate.
Harrison has tried without success to lure Anton Gunn and Clay Middleton into the race. Neither man is available for a suicide mission against Graham. Moreover, neither wants to risk the career-ending prospect of being the Vic Rawl to Stamper’s Alvin Greene. So Harrison is now sweetening the pot, promising to smooth the way for anyone willing to run against Stamper by arranging for Stamper to receive a vote of no confidence by the party’s Executive Committee.
With Gunn and Middleton no-go’s, Harrison is now lobbying Richland County councilwoman Joyce Dickerson, who is already running for Tim Scott’s seat, to switch races and take on Stamper instead. Dickerson, who lacks even a campaign website, is far from Harrison’s first choice but as an African American woman her decision to switch races would threaten Stamper and have the added advantage of clearing the deck for Harrison crony Rick Wade to run unopposed against Tim Scott.
Another big question mark is Stamper himself. The grandson of a Boeing bigwig, he has the support of luminaries like hedge fund titan Charles Ledley and software pioneer Bob Frankston. Yet, he’s raised next to no money in South Carolina and is operating on a shoestring. One theory is that Stamper knows he can’t beat Graham but thinks he might beat Bright so he’s intentionally projecting weakness in order to lure another Democrat into the race, knowing that a contested Democratic primary will give Bright a leg up. If true, this means Harrison is playing right into Stamper’s hand.
The problem for Harrison is that the method he’s using to discredit Stamper – a vetting process for anyone with any history of criminal or civil liability – disproportionately applies to African Americans in South Carolina. And the idea of the Democratic Party seeking to discourage political participation by African Americans doesn’t sit well with African Americans. In an election where African American turnout is king, Harrison’s grudge may end up depressing that turnout, hurting candidates up and down the ballot.
The stakes for Harrison are high. People will understand if he loses the Governors’ race. But if his grudge match with Stamper creates a civil war in the Democratic Party that gets Lee Bright elected, he may need to return to lobbying full time.
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