U.S. Senate races taking shape in S.C.

South Carolina voters will elect two U.S. senators in the fall of 2014, and the races are beginning to take shape.

Richard Cash, an Upstate businessman who ran for Congress in 2010, will visit North Charleston on Saturday as he gears up his GOP primary challenge against Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Cash announced his candidacy in April and will hold his first Lowcountry event at 7 p.m. in Northwoods Baptist Church.

Both Graham and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott are up for election next year, and Cash said he chose to run against Graham because Graham is more moderate.

“Lindsey Graham has an inside-the-beltway mentality,” Cash said Thursday. “Philosophically, Senator Graham is a moderate, and I’m a conservative, and of course, Senator Scott is a conservative.”

Graham’s campaign spokesman, Tate Zeigler, took issue with that, saying Graham has been a “strong fiscal, social and national security conservative with the record to back it up. … The country is facing extraordinary problems, and Senator Graham is a conservative problem-solver willing to tackle tough issues.”

Cash ran for the 3rd Congressional District seat in 2010 and finished second to Jeff Duncan in a GOP runoff. “The main thing I learned (from that race) was the power and importance of just everyday people who are involved on the grass-roots level,” Cash said.

At this point, both Scott and Graham appear well positioned to win next year, Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said.

While some tea party members and conservatives don’t like Graham, “the fact is, in the mainstream of the Republican Party, Lindsey Graham remains popular,” Huffmon said. “He has a strong base, and he has an enormous ($5.3 million) war chest.”

Scott was appointed recently by Gov. Nikki Haley to fill two years of the term held by former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint — an appointment made with the understanding that Scott would run for the office in 2014.

If Scott wins, he would face voters again in 2016, when DeMint’s six-year term was to expire. He also would become the first African-American to win a statewide race in South Carolina in more than 125 years.

Huffmon said he didn’t expect Scott to attract any serious Republican challenger — unlike Graham.

Besides Cash, Graham’s possible primary challengers include Nancy Mace, a businesswoman who also was the first female to graduate from The Citadel, and state Sen. Lee Bright of Spartanburg.

On the Democratic side, Columbia businessman Jay Stamper has created a campaign website and raised $14,274, including $12,000 of his own money, according to federal filings. Stamper’s website says he plans to seek Graham’s seat.

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Other potential Democratic Senate candidates have been talking with S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Harrison but have not publicly announced their plans, party Executive Director Amanda Loveday said.

Filing for the offices does not open until March.

Huffmon said one interesting angle to the upcoming elections will be how often Scott and Graham campaign together, because some of Scott’s most vocal GOP supporters also might be those most hostile to Graham.

“The spice of South Carolina politics will make this a magical stew for every political watcher out there,” he said.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.