Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) waltzed through his June primary without much trouble. Despite earlier concern that the occasionally heterodox Republican might face a Tea Party challenge, the incumbent won his primary easily, racking up 57 percent of the vote against a hodgepodge field of six challengers and setting himself up for an easy general election win against a weak Democratic opponent.
But over the weekend, Graham gained a new opponent—one who might not necessarily frighten the incumbent but who should at least add a little flavor to an otherwise dull campaign. Thomas Ravenel, a former state treasurer and once-rising figure in the state Republican party, announced last Friday that he would wage an independent campaign for Graham’s Senate seat.
Ravenel’s not exactly the model candidate. In 2007, shortly after becoming state treasurer, he was arrested for cocaine possession and forced to resign. He served six months in jail and another four months split between a halfway house and home arrest at his mother’s retirement home. What Ravenel’s been doing since he got out could pose an even greater problem: Earlier this year, he was the central figure in the debut season of Bravo’s Southern Charm, a reality show tracking drama amongst the Charleston elite. Ravenel—who also goes by T-Rav—was the show’s drunken protagonist, bedding women half his age and fretting about the need to find a political wife to restart his career. As I wrote in a profile of Ravenel from May:
In one episode, following a day of playing polo—the field cost Ravenel $1 million, he says on the show—and an evening of drinking, he encourages guests at his 60-acre plantation to skinny-dip with him (Ravenel keeps his trousers on when he jumps in the water). In another, he has a seafood lunch with his dad, Arthur Ravenel, a US congressman from 1987-95 and the younger Ravenel’s idol. When Arthur (who notably once referred to the NAACP as the “National Association for Retarded People” at a 2000 pro-confederate-flag rally) plops down $5 for the tip, the elder politician jokes that he’s happy to rid his wallet of a bill with President Abraham Lincoln’s face on it.
But perhaps the most damaging thing that happened on the show was Ravenel’s relationship with Kathryn Dennis, a then-21-year-old descendant of John C. Calhoun. After dealing with a false-alarm pregnancy scare in the wake of their one-night stand early in the season, the two become an on-again, off-again couple, ultimately parting ways by the end of the season. But an epilogue, tagged nine months later, shows Ravenel and Dennis with their newborn daughter, Kensington Calhoun Ravenel, born in March. Ravenel and Dennis have talked about getting married, so stay tuned for developments on that front during this fall’s campaign (or, at least, season two of Southern Charm).
When I spoke with Ravenel this spring, he said the producers had plied the cast with alcohol, but he didn’t dispute the show’s veracity. “It portrayed me accurately,” he said, “the good, the bad and the ugly.” The wealthy southerner, who plans to campaign as a libertarian (his political hero is Ron Paul), doesn’t believe his personal life should affect his prospects. “Government doesn’t belong in your boardroom, your bedroom or your email inbox,” he said in a recent statement. Ravenel did not respond to an e-mail on Monday requesting information on his campaign-season plans.