Three challengers will appear on the ballot Nov. 4 seeking to replace incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has held the office since 2003. All registered voters in South Carolina can vote in this race. Meet the candidates:
Lindsey Graham, Republican (Incumbent)
As a member of the Republican old school, Sen. Lindsey Graham has never been concerned with earning Tea Party cred. He’s been known to compromise with Democrats on tax and immigration reform, and, together with Sen. John McCain, he leads the war-hawk wing of Senate Republicans.
“Our party for the last couple of years has been a bit uncertain about national security. You know, one minute we’re libertarians; the next minute we’re Ronald Reagan Republicans,” Graham says. “I’d like to form a coalition with libertarians, but not on national security.”
In Graham’s words, the Republican Party has become a home for a few “ideologues” in recent years, but he is not one of them. “I don’t compromise for the sake of compromise; I try to solve hard problems and get a conservative imprint like Reagan,” he says.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Graham has been calling for an aggressive, boots-on-the-ground response to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and destroy ISIS, also known as ISIL or Islamic State. He says the U.S. could defeat ISIS with “less than 10,000 troops,” a strong air attack, and the aid of other Middle Eastern militaries.
“They want to take over the Mideast and have every Muslim bend to their will. They want to kill every Christian in sight and eventually destroy the state of Israel,” Graham says. “And to get that goal achieved, they have to drive us out. They intend to hit our homeland.”
Among his other goals for a third term in the Senate, Graham says he wants to “get this party out of the ditch when it comes to immigration,” replace sequestration cuts to the military and Centers for Disease Control, push completion of the controversial Keystone oil pipeline through the American Midwest, and ensure that the Charleston Harbor is deepened to 52 feet to allow larger Panamax ships at all tide levels.
Brad Hutto, Democratic
Orangeburg state Sen. Brad Hutto caught Charlestonians’ attention in May with his last-ditch, four-hour filibuster effort to stop the legislature from cutting funds to the College of Charleston. Republicans had proposed a $52,000 cut as a punitive measure after the school distributed copies of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, a memoir with lesbian themes, to incoming freshmen. The legislature ultimately reached a compromise wherein the school had to spend the $52,000 teaching Constitutional principles.
“Academic freedom means true freedom, and if you let even the smallest infringement go by without any challenge, then the next one goes by and the next one goes by, and before long you realize you’ve lost control of the situation,” Hutto says.
In contrast to incumbent Sen. Graham, Hutto supports marriage equality and says “the courts have spoken” when it comes to the unconstitutionality of South Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban. He is also critical of Graham’s aggressive foreign policy. “He’s been very quick to argue for boots on the ground everywhere, but if you talk to the veterans of South Carolina, they’ll tell you he’s the same Sen. Graham who hasn’t been there fighting for things that veterans need,” Hutto says.
Hutto also criticizes Graham for voting against renewing the Violence Against Women Act, and he says he would focus on domestic issues more than Graham has. Hutto’s platform includes a $10.10/hour minimum wage, increased spending for technology in classrooms, high-speed rail in parts of South Carolina, and securing funds to repair aging roads and bridges across the state.
“[Graham] wants to invest in infrastructure in Afghanistan; I want to invest in Awendaw and Allendale,” Hutto says. “I think it’s time that we take the money we’re paying in taxes, our hard-earned money, and invest in ourselves, because that’s what is going to be our future.”
Victor Kocher, Libertarian
Victor Kocher says he was a committed Republican until 1998, when he learned that Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond had voted for the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which required background checks for firearm purchases.
“This epiphany shook me to my core,” Kocher writes on his website. “I had to go back and check my results FIVE different times before I could accept it to be true. I FELT BETRAYED!”
Kocher (pronounced “ko-her”) was running his family’s Palmetto Gold & Pawn shops in the Columbia area at the time, and he says customers were surprised when they had to submit to background checks to redeem weapons that they had pawned. Kocher soon became a Libertarian, and he eventually served as chairman of the S.C. Libertarian Party for two years.
If elected, Kocher says he would work to repeal the 16th Amendment (which established the federal income tax), eliminate the IRS (which he says “could easily morph into an American KGB”), and replace all federal income, payroll, gift, and estate taxes with an across-the-board 23-percent sales tax, an arrangement known as the Fair Tax.
“You get to take your full wage home. There’s no deductions,” Kocher says. “And then on top of that, you can ask your employer for approximately, I’m going to guess, about an 8- to 10-percent raise.”
Kocher says he would also like to establish term limits from members of Congress: 12 years for senators and either six or 12 years for representatives.
“It’s going to be hard to get that amendment on the Constitution, so I’m not going to split hairs,” he says.
Kocher previously ran against Sen. Graham in his initial 2002 Senate race and captured less than 1 percent of the vote.
Thomas Ravenel, Petition
Thomas Ravenel is a former state treasurer and the son of Republican statesman Arthur Ravenel Jr. He collected the 10,000 petition signatures necessary to get his name on the ballot without a backing party. But incumbent Sen. Graham has refused to publicly debate him.
“The real reason [Graham] wouldn’t participate in the debate is because he didn’t want to answer to me,” Ravenel says. “He has not been the fiscal conservative he holds himself up to be. I’m fiscally responsible, socially tolerant. He’s socially intolerant and fiscally liberal, fiscally irresponsible.”
Recently, Ravenel has become more famous for his off-screen misdeeds and on-screen antics on the reality show Southern Charm than for his political prowess, but he says he is a serious candidate.
Calling himself a “classical liberal” with libertarian leanings, Ravenel says he sees “cognitive dissonance” in political leaders who would call for limited government while also calling for prohibitions on same-sex marriage. He has also become an advocate for drug legalization since pleading guilty to cocaine trafficking while he was state treasurer in 2007. On drug laws, he says he would work to “get the federal government out of it” and leave decisions up to individual states. “Our war on drugs is the most destructive policy since Jim Crow,” he says. He also says he would work to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s hallmark healthcare law.
Ravenel’s latest campaign finance report from June 30 showed he had invested almost $235,000 of his personal funds in the campaign — and accepted no donations. He says he intends to continue that policy and will spend “up to probably $2 million” of his own money in the race.
“As an independent, I’m free from party politics, not beholden to special interests,” Ravenel says. “I think if we’re going to have real change in Washington, it needs to come outside these two political parties.”