South Carolina state senator Lee Bright (R), who is running a Tea Party-backed challenge to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in South Carolina’s Republican primary, is a magnet for controversy.
COLMES: So [teachers] shouldn’t have machine guns?
BRIGHT: I would think a teacher protecting a school grounds should be able to carry whatever she can carry legally.
COLMES: So should machine guns be legal to carry?
BRIGHT: The Second Amendment is pretty clear. It says the right to carry arms should not be infringed. […]
COLMES: So you should be able to have any gun you want?
BRIGHT: Well, I don’t see how the government can regulate it.
The discussion was not purely academic; Bright has authored bills to expand the number of guns in schools, and has repeatedly argued that South Carolina should be able to nullify federal gun laws. Additionally, as Think Progress‘ Igor Volsky points out, the Supreme Court has ruled that the government can, in fact, limit “dangerous and unusual” weapons (such as machine guns made after the passage of the 1986 Firearms’ Owners Protection Act).
Bright’s extreme opposition to tougher gun laws is just one of many positions that puts him far outside of the mainstream, even in staunchly Republican South Carolina. Among other examples, Bright has:
- Argued that welfare programs are “all sin” and “legalized plunder.”
- Explained his demand that food stamps be cut by insisting that “able-bodied people, if they don’t work, they shouldn’t eat.”
- Warned that “Brown Shirts” from the Internal Revenue Service are going to enforce the Affordable Care Act with AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.
- Insisted that “FEMA is a scam,” and that the government should have no role in providing disaster relief.
- Suggested that Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor might want to dissolve the states, and that President Obama wants to become a king.
- Threatened that South Carolinians may have to “use the Second Amendment” against the government, adding that “I want to lay down my life for my liberty just like my forefathers did.”
In addition to all of his overheated rhetoric, Bright holds at least $1.4 million in debt from a failed trucking business — a disclosure that rather undercuts his efforts to paint himself as a fiscal conservative.
In other words, Bright is an opposition researcher’s dream candidate. And yet it’s plausible that he could wind up in the U.S. Senate.
Early polling of South Carolina’s Republican primary finds Graham with a comfortable lead. The most recent survey, from Gravis Marketing, finds Graham with a big 54 to 10 percent advantage over Bright; Charleston businesswoman Nancy Mace has 6 percent support, followed by 2010 congressional candidate Richard Cash at 5 percent, and attorney Bill Connor at 2 percent. 23 percent are undecided.
The poll does contain warning signs for the incumbent, however. When asked if they would support a “Tea Party” challenger to Senator Graham, 39 percent of voters said “yes,” while 37 percent said “no,” and 24 percent were undecided. This suggests that if any of Graham’s challengers can consolidate support on the right, there is plenty of room for their numbers to grow. That unsettling thought could become reality for Graham this summer; if he fails to crack 50 percent in the June 10 primary, he would face the second-place finisher in a one-on-one runoff election two weeks later.
If Bright can force a runoff and carry the Tea Party banner against Graham — who has long been a target of scorn from the right — then the race could narrow rapidly. And even if Graham wins the runoff (to be sure, his robust fundraising and unmatched name recognition would make him the strong favorite even in a head-to-head matchup with Bright), he may have to shift far enough to the right to leave him vulnerable against a strong Democratic challenger.
Thankfully for Republicans, no such challenger exists as of now. It would take an exceptionally strong Democratic candidate to win any statewide election in South Carolina, and the only Democrat in the race — Jay Stamper, an entrepreneur who pleaded guilty to three felony charges related to the illegal sale of securities in 2006 — is unlikely to become that candidate.
There is still plenty of time until the March 30 deadline to file for the Senate race. If Graham shows even a hint of vulnerability, and gives Bright even the slightest chance at winning the Republican nomination, then Democrats would be wise to find a stronger candidate to run against what could be an incredibly weak GOP nominee.