COLUMBIA — State Sen. Lee Bright’s campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham spent more money than it raised during 2013’s final quarter, leaving the Spartanburg Republican with just $49,459 to spend.
Bright raised $52,237 in the quarter but spent $76,678. Bright and three other GOP challengers have been battling to build the grass-roots, tea party support that they say will be critical to force Graham into a runoff in the Republican primary.
Bright was the final one of Graham’s challengers to report his fundraising totals for the last three months of 2013.
Charleston public relations executive Nancy Mace led Graham opponents in fundraising, reporting $256,333 in contributions. Mace had $241,200 to spend at the end of 2013.
Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor, who entered the race in mid-November, raised $43,796 in contributions from donors and contributed $210,000 of his own money to his campaign, bringing his total receipts to $253,796. He had $223,563 to spend.
Easley businessman Richard Cash led the group in money left to spend, reporting $255,432 at the end of 2013. Cash raised $76,156 in the year’s final quarter. Like Connor, Cash contributed about $200,000 of his own money to the campaign in an earlier quarter.
Graham raised more than $1.3 million from October through December and has $7.6 million to spend.
A previous poll showed Bright to be the only Graham opponent registering in the double-digits of support. But that poll was taken before Connor entered the race and Bright’s debts – $500,000 from his company’s failure – became public.
Mace’s lead in fourth-quarter fundraising may position her as the frontrunner among Graham’s challengers, said University of South Carolina political scientist Mark Tompkins.
But that position comes with a price.
Graham’s campaign managers “are going to start underlining who is the most dangerous opponent,” Tompkins said, adding that Graham’s challengers need to spend money to travel the state, introduce themselves to voters and tell them why they are running.
The performance of those challengers so far does not compare to Graham’s fundraising prowess, Tompkins said. Graham “is going to have all the money he needs to run a very expensive and energetic campaign in the primary.”