In a race with nine GOP congressional candidates, it’s hard to pull away from the crowded field.

Three have been able to establish themselves as frontrunners: Carroll “Tumpy” Campbell III, the son of former Gov. Carroll Campbell Jr.; Charleston County Councilman Paul Thurmond, the son of former Sen. Strom Thurmond; and state Rep. Tim Scott, who has been able to pull in a lot of financial support.

And then there’s Larry Kobrovsky, a Charleston attorney whose recent internal polling suggests his message of constitutional principles and Tea Party conservatism may be catching on — at least with one section of the party.

Conducted in the first week of April, the poll of likely Republican Primary voters put Kobrovsky at a respectable 10 percent, third behind Campbell’s 18 percent and Scott’s 16 percent. Thurmond was fourth at nearly 7 percent. The results are surprising to most anyone, except Kobrovsky.

“It reflected what I’m seeing out there,” he says.

What he’s seeing is a fatigue among some primary voters when it comes to longtime politicians like Scott or the sons of famous political icons like Campbell and Thurmond.

“A lot has changed,” Kobrovsky says. “I’m not sure that’s going to help them this year.”

He’s got a point. There are fewer safe incumbents this year. Congressman Henry Brown was already in for a competitive primary before he exited the race at the beginning of the year.

But Kobrovsky isn’t saying anything that isn’t being echoed by nearly every other candidate, like calling for fiscal discipline and railing against the healthcare reform of “socialist” Democrats. He says the difference is authenticity.

It’s an important distinction between authenticity and likability. We’re not talking about people who are going to vote for the guy you can have a beer with or the guy who’ll fill out his March Madness bracket on the nightly news. This is the kind of voter who wants your analysis of the Bill of Rights and would rather fill out a bracket of their favorite Founding Fathers.

This is right up Kobrovsky’s alley. He not only carries a copy of the Constitution wherever he goes, he sent 60,000 copies to primary voters. He sees some other candidates as either hollow conservatives or pandering showmen.

“It seems more like performance art,” he says.

Noting that 40 percent of respondents were undecided, the poll did have a caveat. A strong 75 percent said they either had no opinion of Kobrovsky or didn’t know who he was. The way that you reach most of those people is through television ads, billboards, or campaign fliers. Frankly, Kobrovsky just doesn’t have that kind of dough.

In first quarter campaign filings, Kobrovsky’s fundraising was far from the sweet third-place finish in his poll. The candidate only pulled in $22,300 in donations. By comparison, Stovall Witte, who placed ninth in the poll, has raised $90,000.

And even Witte will have a hard time matching the spending might of the leading candidates. Scott alone raised nearly $250,000.

Kobrovsky says that he’ll stand in front of any crowd of conservatives between now and primary day, June 8. He’s hopeful that his message will reach those niche conservative voters in the Tea Party, Republicans who won’t be affected by the number of yard signs they see in their neighborhood.

“They respond to the message, not how much you’re spending,” Kobrovsky says.

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