Originally created 05/03/04

Money divides GOP hopefuls



AIKEN - The race among Republicans vying for the state's U.S. Senate seat is quickening from a jog to a sprint, but only a handful of candidates have the big bank accounts needed to run statewide campaigns until the end.

The field of six will be winnowed down June 8, with a runoff likely to follow. The winner is expected to face Democratic state Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, who faces little-known challenger Ben Frasier in that party's primary.

With so many Republicans in the field, some contenders are spending big dollars to gain an edge.

U.S. Rep. Jim DeMint had raised $2.6 million through last week and had $1.6 million on hand. Former Gov. David Beasley has generated $1.23 million and has $1.05 million to burn. Both men are running TV ads throughout the state, their campaign spokesmen said.

Charleston businessman Thomas Ravenel has brought in about $1.6 million. His spokesman, Mike Green, said he was unsure how much money the campaign had on hand, but he said it was buying television time.

Former state Attorney General Charlie Condon rounds out the list of fat-pocketed candidates. He has $953,000 on hand, said his spokeswoman, Christy Fargnoli.

Mr. Condon also is selling himself to voters across the airwaves.

That's a luxury Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride and Orly Benny Davis, a latecomer to the race, can't afford.

"Financially, it's just not there," said Mr. McBride's spokesman Brett Perry. "The name recognition wasn't there early on, and in a political race, money begets money."

Mr. Perry said politics has become too focused on fund raising, when attention needs to be on the issues.

"What do we really know about a candidate that raised a million dollars?" Mr. Perry asked. "That they're good at raising money."

His candidate got a chance to talk issues Friday. Debates were held on Hilton Head Island and at Myrtle Beach, with additional forums to follow, including one May 13 at the Aiken County Council building.

Unfortunately for underfunded candidates, debates, unless televised, don't often reach large audiences. In the game of modern politics, experts say, the battle for election often comes down to fund raising.

"In a sense, people are voting with their dollars," said Bob Botsch, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina Aiken.

Ms. Davis, who was born in Israel, grew up in Italy and moved to the United States at age 25, said she wasn't "intimidated by all the cliches." She said she was funding her own campaign.

"I started out somewhere else, but I've got the American dream," the Bluffton resident said. "Look at me now. I'm running for Senate."

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.