There are still plenty of disappointed Republican voters unhappy with how the party’s Senate primary turned out last June. They supported one of the half-dozen challengers to Lindsey Graham for the GOP’s Senate nomination, and are still weary of voting for someone they consider to be an insufficiently conservative incumbent.
Thomas Ravenel hopes those voters will rally to him, warts and all.
“I wish somebody else was running, but I’m the last chance you’ve got,” Ravenel told a gathering of conservatives in a conference room at the Baymont Inn and Suites in Rock Hill on Tuesday, the latest stop on his independent run for federal office. “I wish there was a better communicator with an unblemished past, but it’s the people with the blemishless pasts who have run Washington into the ground.”
A former state official, convict and reality TV star, Ravenel may be the most colorful candidate trying to grab a Senate seat this year. The son of former Charleston Congressman Arthur Ravenel, Thomas was elected the state’s treasurer in 2006 before a federal cocaine charge derailed his political career and sent the rising Republican star to prison.
Most recently, Ravenel is probably best known for his role on the Bravo network reality show, “Southern Charm,” which largely revolves around Ravenel’s unwed relationship with the younger mother of his baby daughter. Film crews from the show have covered previous Ravenel campaign events. Now he hopes to pick up where he left off, and knock off Graham for a chance to become a U.S. senator.
Ravenel spoke to a meeting of the GPS Conservatives for Action, a small gathering of voters receptive to his calls for a return to “constitutional” government, although organizer Paul Anderko said agreeing to host Ravenel’s visit was not equivalent to an endorsement of the candidate.
“It’s really important to hear what the different sides have to say,” Anderko said.
Ravenel spoke on some familiar themes; he denounced big government programs going back to the Franklin Roosevelt administration, and called for a return to limited government that works like a “layered wedding cake” between the federal, state and local levels.
“I am a liberal,” Ravenel said. “A classical liberal. The word ‘liberal’ has been hijacked to mean a completely different philosophy. Now I might be called a libertarian.”
He said Graham is a “progressive called a Republican” who voted in favor of Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominations, voted to allow the government shutdown to end rather than cast a “real” vote to defund Obamacare, and pursues a hawkish foreign policy that makes elections a choice between “a warfare state versus a welfare state.”
His platform as a non-party candidate has some expectedly conservative, even very conservative, planks. He wants to raise the age for Social Security, allow seniors to opt out of Medicare and end government “fiat money” by returning to the gold standard. But he also takes more “classical liberal,” small-government stances. With his own experience of the nation’s drug laws, he wants to see an end to the war on drugs, arguing, “Prohibition didn’t work in the ’20s, but at least then they passed a constitutional amendment to do it.”
Ravenel wants a less interventionist foreign policy than his main opponent. “It offends some people on the right when you talk about ‘peace.’”
And he said he favors gay rights. “It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do politically,” he said. “If you have the right to pursuit of happiness, it can’t be the purpose of government to violate that.”
In August, Ravenel filed the minimum 10,000 signatures to get his name on the ballot as a petition candidate, running for the state’s U.S. Senate seat against Graham, Democratic state Sen. Brad Hutto and Libertarian candidate Victor Kocher.
The Graham and Hutto campaigns declined to comment about Ravenel’s challenge when reached Tuesday, and Graham’s office referred requests to the S.C. Republican Party. GOP press secretary Matt Orr was dismissive of Ravenel’s chances and his motives for running.
“Thomas Ravenel’s candidacy isn’t about ideas or issues, it’s about ratings and buzz for his reality TV show,” Orr said. “Most South Carolinians think his sideshow of a campaign is embarrassing.”
But even as his life plays out in front of the cameras, it’s still Ravenel’s life. He said he wants to finish every day of campaigning, even in Rock Hill, by going home to Charleston and his daughter.
“My private life is my problem,” he said, “but Lindsey Graham’s public life is everybody’s problem.”