Thomas Ravenel has gone from budding reality TV star to likely political candidate in less than 24 hours.
Fresh off the premiere of his "Southern Charm" reality show, the Charleston native said he's preparing for a run for the U.S. Senate this year.
"If Lindsey (Graham) wins the nomination, I will probably throw my hat into the ring," Ravenel, 51, said Tuesday.
He was referring to the five-way field of candidates challenging the incumbent U.S. senator in the June GOP primary. Graham is still considered the heavy favorite.
If a Ravenel bid comes together, the former elected Republican state treasurer said he would run as a political independent, promoting libertarian views. "Just because I think some people need other ideas," he said.
South Carolina political scientists were quick to downplay Ravenel's odds of success, given his federal cocaine charge and guilty plea that drove him from office in 2007.
"I don't think he has a chance in hell," said College of Charleston political scientist Kendra Stewart.
Stewart said some voters can be forgiving, citing how coastal 1st Congressional District Republicans responded to now-U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford's marital affair and Appalachian Trail hike story while governor.
The difference, she said, was that Sanford asked for forgiveness and was contrite - helping him win his former seat in Congress last year.
In Ravenel's case, she said, he hasn't been as repentant. He also was pushed from office for drug use.
"I think a drug scandal is a lot harder to overcome than a marital scandal," Stewart said. "Especially in other areas of the state."
Much of "Southern Charm," seen on the Bravo network, claims to show the lives of rich young men and women living in Charleston. Parts of Monday's broadcast focused on Ravenel's efforts to mix his playboy persona and efforts to rehabilitate his image toward a political campaign.
"It's just television; it's entertainment," Ravenel said of the first hour of the series that was shown Monday. He added that he felt he was portrayed accurately.
He also let on Tuesday that other Charleston residents earlier had dropped out of the project, and that his siblings had pressured him to get out as well.
"(The network) said they wouldn't have a show without me; I was the only Charlestonian in it," he said of his decision to honor his commitment to the project and stay on.
Ravenel said he would self-finance his campaign if it does materialize, and would seek donations. His conviction does not prohibit seeking federal office.
Graham's campaign declined to comment on a potential Ravenel candidacy.
Clemson University political scientist Dave Woodard said Ravenel's best hopes as a potential independent candidate would be to try to pull between 13 percent and 18 percent of the electorate. Other than that, Woodard said independents don't have a history of success in South Carolina beyond trying to promote an issue.
"I guess he can go on TV and talk," Woodard said.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.
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