Fritz Hollings’ advice as Lindsey Graham looks at running for president? It’s all about the green

Former U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings and current U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham share a moment at the Hollings Cancer Center in Charleston in 2008. Hollings briefly sought the presidency in 1984, while Graham is considering a run for the White House in 2016.

Looking back at his short-lived 1984 campaign for president, former Democratic U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings remembers 5 a.m. TV appearances aimed at Iowa farmers, stumping through New Hampshire’s small towns and the obligatory sit-downs with editorial boards.

Mostly, though, Hollings recalls the daily pressures of trying to raise enough money to keep his candidacy alive — the same pressures that are expected to plague Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham as he explores a White House bid.

“I probably campaigned more than I raised money, and that was probably my biggest mistake,” Hollings, 93, said last week. “You got to have a hell of lot of money.”

And luck. Since the days of the Founding Fathers, only a handful of South Carolinians have launched serious bids to win the nation’s top job. None, except for Andrew Jackson, whose birth-state is still debated today, ever made it.

The most recent hopefuls include Hollings, then-S.C. Gov. Strom Thurmond in 1948, and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson in ’84 and ’88.

While Graham is not expected to formally announce his plans until May, one political scientist who has tracked the White House hopes of native-born South Carolinians said he doubts Graham can overcome that history.

“I think he’s a charismatic figure, but there’s a difference between being charismatic and having a record needed to secure a Republican primary,” said University of Minnesota political scientist Eric J. Ostermeier of the Smart Politics blog. “Those are two different things.”

Largely because of his fights with other conservatives in the Senate and, as was apparent during last year’s GOP primary, Graham is likely to “join a fairly long list over the centuries who have tried and failed,” Ostermeier said.

Hollings was one of eight Democrats who joined the 1984 fight to take on popular Republican incumbent Ronald Reagan. He barely campaigned in Iowa that year, spending much of his time in New Hampshire where he preached reducing the deficit, improving global competitiveness and balancing the budget. He would spend some 70 days stumping in the Granite State on a national campaign budget of about $2.5 million.

While Hollings made headlines by winning in tiny Dixville, N.H. — a village that holds midnight voting for the primary — he finished sixth statewide, prompting him to drop out the next day.

During an interview Tuesday, Hollings said he didn’t want to discuss specifics of Graham’s presidential hopes but said raising significant amounts of cash will be Graham’s biggest hurdle.

“In South Carolina it’s tough to raise money. It’s tough to raise money in a little state with no obvious billionaires hanging around. All the other states have them, but we don’t,” he said.

Graham is relying on his recently created Security Through Strength special committee, which will be the fundraising arm of his potential bid. It can cover the costs of staff, travel and research. He can’t use money from his Senate election war chest to fund the presidential effort.

If he does get in the race, Graham faces a much different Iowa and New Hampshire than Hollings did 31 years ago. University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala said that while the state still has some of its libertarian reputation of 30 years ago, the biggest difference is more geographical in nature. New Hampshire has become more suburban than rural in the past few decades, fed by a growth of moderates moving into the southern half of the state, he said.

University of Iowa political scientist Cary Covington, meanwhile, said Iowa’s biggest shift 30 years removed from Hollings’ campaign is exactly where Hollings said it would be: money.

“While campaign finance has always been important to the overall nominating process, fundraising was much less important in Iowa in 1984,” Covington said last week. “It wasn’t really until 1996 that Iowa became the target of massive advertising. Before that time, the conventional wisdom held that Iowans needed personal contact, and media ads couldn’t ‘move the needle.’ In 1996, Steve Forbes spent a lot of money on TV ads in Iowa, and while he didn’t succeed personally, he opened the door to the value of spending in Iowa.”

Covington said any candidate trying to be considered legitimate has to think in terms of raising “tens of millions of dollars” to be viewed seriously.

Meanwhile, Hollings said his decision not to go strong in Iowa’s lead-off caucuses hurt him badly in the horse race coverage of the day. He collected only about 150 votes statewide. “Pull out of it, you’re obviously a ‘loser,’ ” he said, describing the negative media label he had to overcome.

Still, Hollings said the experience of running a White House campaign was worth it, even with the lack of success.

“You’re on a high and you get inspired by all the people that come to help you,” he said. “They come from all over the country.”

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.