REALITY TV CANDIDATE CRASHES BACK TO … REALITY
By FITSNEWS || Lowcountry businessman Thomas Ravenel has had plenty of highs and lows in his life … and his political career. In 2004, he narrowly missed out on a runoff election that would have likely catapulted him (not Jim DeMint) to a seat in the United States Senate.
Two years later he stormed back and captured the State Treasurer’s office – defeating a well-liked veteran Democrat in a year that was not kind to the “Republican” Party. In fact Ravenel was one of only a handful of “Republicans” nationwide to oust an incumbent Democrat in 2006.
Within a year of his election, though, Ravenel was busted on cocaine charges – an arrest many Palmetto political observers attributed to his refusal to go along with the machinations of powerful legislative leaders on the S.C. Budget and Control Board (SCBCB), where he represented the swing vote.
After his arrest Ravenel lost his job … and spent ten months in a federal prison. However prior to going away he vowed that his political career was not over – specifically referring to his upcoming time in prison as a “break” during which he would refocus himself on his ultimate goal of being elected to the U.S. Senate.
THE COMEBACK >>>
Fast forward to 2013, when Ravenel became the star of Bravo TV’s Southern Charm reality television show – an ongoing production which focuses on the lives of Charleston, S.C.’s wealthy elite.
Popular with Bravo’s national audience, Southern Charm was less favorably received in the Palmetto State – with Ravenel’s frequent displays of emotional immaturity and inebriated coquettishness projecting the image of a man looking to nix, not mount, a political comeback.
Social conservatives were also aghast at the show’s focus on Ravenel’s relationship with 22-year-old girlfriend Kathryn Calhoun Dennis – the mother of his infant daughter, Kensington.
Despite his troubling past – and sideshow present – Ravenel chose this summer to launch his political comeback, submitting more than 17,000 petition signatures to the S.C. Election Commission in order to appear on the November ballot against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Why’d he do that? Because despite the negatives arrayed against him, Ravenel’s ideological moorings – i.e. his unwavering support for free markets and individual liberties – resonated with many South Carolina voters still struggling to make their way through the American “recovery.”
Ravenel also proved himself to be a capable counterpoint to Graham on the issue of foreign policy.
For these and other reasons, Ravenel was able to qualify for the ballot – and early internal surveys had him polling as high as 15 percent.
The wealthy businessman also vowed to match the special interest-fed incumbent “dollar for dollar” in the race – prompting panic in the camp of Graham, who remains wildly unpopular with broad swaths of the “Republican” electorate in the Palmetto State.
THE FADEOUT >>>
But as July faded into August, and August into September, and September into October … Ravenel has faded.
The initial enthusiasm for his candidacy among fiscal conservatives and libertarian-leaning GOP voters has evaporated. Also, Ravenel’s initial television offering (produced by his Southern Charm co-star Whitney Sudler Smith and supported by an underwhelming, low-six figure media buy) failed to move the needle in his direction.
Ravenel has also failed to exploit Graham’s most glaring vulnerabilities – including his support for full funding of Obamacare, amnesty for illegal immigrants and Barack Obama’s two liberal Supreme Court justices.
The result? According to a Winthrop University poll released this week, Ravenel is currently receiving the support of only eight percent of likely voters – roughly half his initial level of support.
“The numbers were there for (Ravenel),” one veteran Palmetto pollster told FITS. “Lindsey Graham is the most hated, most vulnerable GOP incumbent in the country. He only got half the votes in an exceedingly low turnout Republican primary election in June – when he had the airwaves to himself, the GOP establishment firmly in his corner and no credible opponents.”
Graham’s consultants tell FITS they fully expected Ravenel to emerge as a “credible threat.” Especially after he sold his mansion in downtown Charleston, S.C. for a cool $3.3 million back in April.
“Half a million dollars of that could have probably gotten him to 20 percent by October 1,” a Republican operative affiliated with a pro-Graham political committee told FITS. “That was his magic number. A number he could – and should – have easily been able to hit with a modest investment.”
THE FAULT >>>
So what happened?
Beyond Ravenel’s failure to make good on his “dollar for dollar” promise, some observers say the real problem was the candidate himself.
Specifically, they say Ravenel never found the right balance in addressing his past.
“He didn’t have to be like Mark Sanford and apologize every five seconds for what he did,” one Lowcountry, S.C. operative told FITS. “But he never took any ownership for his own culpability – which is a missed opportunity in a state that rewards redeemed sinners.”
“I think people saw through the guy,” another operative told FITS bluntly. “When you’re on national TV basically saying, ‘Sure I’m a felon, but it’s a stupid law,’ that kind of sums T-Rav up in a nutshell. People who think they’re entitled to win typically don’t invest the time or money they need into it.”
This website has consistently advocated on behalf of Ravenel – and the ideas he champions. We believe his commitment to constitutionally limited government is real – and we admire the intellectual depth he brings to a movement that typically offers little in the way of substantive solutions. We also have no doubt that if he were ever to be elected to the U.S. Senate, Ravenel would vote in a manner consistent with this commitment.
But at this point it seems painfully obvious the Ravenel for Senate campaign was less about advancing those ideas – and more about advancing the ratings for the candidate’s reality television show. Which is profoundly disappointing.
It’s also profoundly troubling to us given that this was precisely the narrative we argued against a little over a month ago when Ravenel’s campaign manager Scott Wheeler reportedly told U.S. News it was Bravo TV that approached him to run the race.
Wheeler – who sources say has been filmed extensively for Southern Charm‘s second season – told FITS afterward he never made those comments. In fact he claimed the alleged misquotation by U.S. News’ reporter David Cantanese “reminds everyone who side the press is on.”
The only problem? Cantanese recorded his conversation with the California-based operative – who in fact did make the comments regarding Bravo approaching him to run Ravenel’s campaign. After being confronted with this information, a Bravo executive who joined Wheeler in denying the report quickly changed her tune.
THE FUTURE >>>
Ravenel still has a televised debate with Graham (and Democrat Brad Hutto) to make his case to voters. And as we reported last week rumors abound that he plans to drop “mad cash” on the race within its final few weeks.
We hope that’s true … but at this point we doubt it.
At this point Ravenel’s candidacy – now definitively linked to his reality television exploits – reminds us of the old line from Macbeth, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
That’s too bad for Ravenel, too bad for South Carolina taxpayers and too bad for a deliberative body in Washington, D.C. that desperately needs more of the views he’s advancing.