Column: Challengers may create surprises in Senate race
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three part series.
In the Aiken County Tea Party’s April 28 straw poll, Lee Bright led the challengers to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., with 44 percent of the vote.
Given the small sample size, the polls value is limited in measuring Bright’s following among anti-Graham Republicans. It does, however, reflect the preferences of a key set of conservative activists.
Placing second and third in the poll were Richard Cash (20 percent) and Bill Connor (13 percent). This is understandable since they were Republican candidates for office in 2010 and have since retained small but vocal cadres of support.
Cash ran in that year’s primary to succeed Congressman Gresham Barrett, back when most of Aiken County was still in the Third Congressional District. Cash led in the first round with 25 percent to Jeff Duncan’s 23 percent. In the runoff, however, Duncan pulled ahead of Cash with 51 percent. Duncan has since ably represented the Third District.
Initially, Cash wasn’t considered to be one of the serious candidates. Yet his hard work, strong message and organizational ability almost won him a seat in Congress.
An owner of two small businesses with a Master’s in Theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, this resident of Anderson County is running to restore the “Three C’s” behind America’s greatness: “Capitalism, Christianity, and the Constitution.”
“I am unapologetically committed to faith and family as the essential elements of enduring freedom,” writes Cash on his website.
Cash is an outspoken cultural conservative who practices what he preaches. He’s been arrested numerous times for his pro-life activities, and he and his wife Marcia homeschooled their eight children.
Cash opposes activist judges, gay marriage, infringements on the Second Amendment and the growth of the federal police state.
“The Supreme Court is legislating from the bench, in keeping with a modern legal philosophy that believes the Constitution is a living document,” writes Cash. “I will vote against nominees that have a track record of legislating from the bench, and I will vote for those who have a track record of respecting original intent and Constitutional limits.”
Cash has the most visible campaign on the ground in Aiken County thus far. He’s effectively utilizing the organization he built for his Congressional race four years ago. If Cash can extend his grassroots effort beyond the lines of the old Third Congressional District, he may once again surprise those who write him off.
Like Cash, Bill Connor was also on the ballot in 2010, but in his case as a candidate for lieutentant governor. And also like Cash, Connor finished in the top two in the first round, but succumbed to Ken Ard by a 61 to 39 percent margin in the runoff.
Connor won 12 counties in the second round, including neighboring Edgefield and Barnwell Counties.
Connor is an attorney and lives in Orangeburg with his wife Susan and their three children. He previously spent a decade on active duty in the U.S. Army, deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 as a reservist, was promoted to Lt. Colonel and received the Bronze Star. He remains active in the reserves.
An effective speaker on the stump, Connor eschews the podium whenever possible, brandishing his pocket copy of the Constitution while energetically flailing Graham’s record. Though he refrains from gratuitous Graham bashing, Connor usually offers the most sustained critique of the senator at candidate forums.
“But he’s (Graham’s) been in Washington too long, disappointed us too many times with votes that don’t represent our values, and supported far too many foreign policy measures,” writes Connor on his website.
Perhaps Connor’s greatest ire is over Graham’s condemnation of the Egyptian military’s overthrow of Mohamed Morsi’s anti-Christian, Muslim Brotherhood-backed government. Connor sees no value in coddling Middle Eastern Islamic revolutionaries. Like the other five candidates running against Graham, Connor’s stances on the issues of the day remain firmly grounded in the Republican Party’s conservative wing. The only substantial differences are over emphases and style.
Connor is distinguished by his military background, his commitment to the Constitution and his slightly more interventionist position on foreign policy – particularly his wish for a stronger stance against Russia over the Crimean dispute.
Connor’s path to victory is clear: appeal to veterans, maximize support from his Midlands-centered base and build on his statewide core of supporters left over from his 2010 campaign for lieutenant governor. It may be a long shot, but nothing is impossible in South Carolina politics.
Gary Bunker is a former Aiken County Councilman.