COLUMBIA, S.C. - After being saddled with candidates who have been an embarrassment to the party in the last two U.S. Senate elections, leaders of South Carolina's Democratic Party aren't taking any chances in 2014.
State Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Harrison is prominently backing state Sen. Brad Hutto in next month's primary over unknown businessman Jay Stamper for the seat now held by Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.
The two-term Graham has his own GOP primary against six relatively unknown challengers the same day.
Party leaders tend to stay out of their own races to avoid appearing like parents who favor one particular child. But in South Carolina, a few wayward 'children' have led Democrats to rethink their approach.
Stamper's candidacy is a case in point. Harrison points out Stamper has a felony conviction in Nevada; has repeatedly redirected the websites of politicians he doesn't like to white supremacy or cannibalism-support pages; and only moved to the state a year ago, apparently just to run for office.
Harrison said all that left him little choice but to back Hutto to save face and avoid yet another embarrassing election cycle.
"We have had people run where them winning has not been in the best interest of the Democratic Party," Harrison said. "Jay Stamper is in that situation."
The feud between Harrison and Stamper spilled on to Twitter last month with Stamper telling Harrison "It wouldn't hurt to support candidates who agree with you."
Harrison replied: "We do! (at)BradHutto has been a champion for the voiceless for a long time in Orangeburg. We know & respect him. (hash)dontknowu."
The party chairman then followed up "with all due respect you moved here a year ago with a criminal record. What qualifies you to be our nominee for Senate?"
While Democrats have fielded candidates they are proud of in other elections, the party's recent U.S. Senate history has been sketchy. The party's lone congressional member, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, hasn't publicly supported a Democratic U.S. Senate nominee since 2004.
Alvin Greene's puzzling 2010 primary win and his naive campaign - which included tackling unemployment by making action figures of himself - received plenty of attention. In 2008, Democrats gave their nomination to Bob Conley, an anti-abortion, anti-immigration candidate who supported Ron Paul for president.
Hutto, a state senator from Orangeburg since 1996, filed his paperwork and paid his $10,440 fee less than a day before filing ended. Harrison said it took some work to get Hutto into the race because he didn't want to run unless he could see a way to win.
While the party and its leaders go after Stamper, Hutto is focusing on Graham, who has six Republican primary opponents of his own.
"I don't know Mr. Stamper and I don't know any other Democrats who know Mr. Stamper," Hutto said.
Stamper said Hutto is more Republican than Democrat. He said the party is being led by Harrison to stray from its core principles like support for gay marriage, gun control and universal health insurance.
"I think he does have a belief that you need to act like a Republican to be elected as a Democrat," Stamper said of the party's leader.
Party leaders are also reminding voters that Stamper pleaded guilty in Las Vegas in 2008 to selling unregistered securities. He successfully completed three years of probation and paid back the people who bought the securities.
"It was a business mistake, not a willful violation of the law. Nevertheless, I took full responsibility," said Stamper.
At the state Democratic Party convention earlier this month, a Facebook message was circulated that accused Stamper of seeking a consultant to make a tea party run. The names of everyone involved except for Stamper were blacked out. Stamper denied sending the message and said he has been the target of other attacks.
"I believe it is below the belt what they have been doing," Stamper said. "I wouldn't expect this from Democrats. These are Republican tactics."