Ravenel's surreal Senate campaign as a reality show star

Thomas Ravenel (second from left) and the cast of "Southern Charm" season one. (Robert Ascroft/Bravo)

Thomas Ravenel is "dead serious" about wanting to replace Sen. Lindsey Graham. The "Southern Charm" season two script supervisors can check that line off the list.

Naturally, the presence of a Bravo television crew at the independent senatorial candidate's most recent campaign stop drew jabs from those who think Ravenel is more concerned with plot points for his reality show than rebooting his political career in earnest.

The former state treasurer spoke to a group of businessmen and women at the Holiday Inn Riverview on Wednesday without tip-toeing around the presence of cameras and two of the show's other cast members.

It's hard to take a candidate seriously after he has appeared on national television joking about cocaine use, mooning the cameras and pursuing much younger women, one of whom is now the mother of his child. Not that any of those missteps enter uncharted political territory, but most politicians would apologize and consider resigning rather than upping the campaign stakes.

"T-Rav" is on the Nov. 4 ballot through the unconventional process of a voter petition. Clearly, he's not a typical politician.

Despite his repeated assertions to the contrary, criticisms that Ravenel is less interested in running a campaign than creating good TV are perfectly valid, and probably correct. But those who dismiss him as nothing more than a fame-hungry reality star haven't followed a campaign recently. Reality shows just aren't ultimately all that different from most national-level politics.

Surely there are at least a couple of cameras following Graham every time he shakes a hand or steps up to a microphone. If not, he should get a new press secretary.

Even when they ham it up in front of news cameras with as much glee as Ravenel on "Southern Charm," most major politicians manage to avoid being labeled narcissists seeking office to satisfy ego first and constituents a distant second. Maybe that's because their campaigns don't conveniently coincide with reality show shooting schedules.

But cameras are cameras, and publicity is publicity. And Ravenel makes a good point when he argues that voters know exactly where he stands. He certainly hasn't shied away from discussing his very public fall from grace - he was indicted on cocaine charges in 2007 and resigned as treasurer before serving time in prison. His closet is perhaps airier than most, but surely Bravo can drum up a skeleton or two for the second-season "Southern Charm" finale.

The main theme for Ravenel's campaign thus far is that Graham has overstayed his welcome in Washington. He's hardly the only one who feels that way. Graham faced a bevy of opposing candidates in this year's Republican primary, though he ultimately cruised to an easy victory and avoided a runoff.

And then there's Brad Hutto, the Democratic state senator from Orangeburg and Graham's truly serious opponent from a serious party. If anyone should be fuming over Ravenel's uncanny ability to grab headlines out of thin air, it's Hutto.

Hutto has run a low-key campaign based on a center-left platform. With a handful of endorsements including educational and labor groups, he's vastly outmatched by Graham's fundraising capacity and national star power.

Hutto also poked fun at Graham for his frequent appearances on national news programs and talking-head shows.

Fair enough, but it might not be a bad idea for Hutto to throw on a tie and talk to a camera every now and then.

You know, like T-Rav.

So while it's perfectly reasonable to dismiss Ravenel's candidacy as ridiculous and futile, he's nothing if not a savvy self-promoter. He knows how to schmooze for the cameras and he has quite the fawning fan base, believe it or not.

If only they were registered to vote in South Carolina.

On the other hand, if Mark Sanford can recapture his congressional seat just a few years after what is easily the most infamous hike ever taken on the Appalachian Trail, Ravenel's career revitalization may not be as preposterous as it seems.

He certainly won't be able to unseat Graham, but it might be shortsighted to poke too much fun at Ravenel for his reality-show campaign.

It's just not that different from any other campaign.

And honestly, it might be a lot more fun to watch.

Ed Buckley is a member of The Post and Courier's editorial staff. He can be reached at ebuckley@postandcourier.com.