COLUMBIA — Not all of the six candidates competing in June’s GOP primary against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, regularly participate in the party’s statewide and presidential preference primaries, an analysis by The State found.
And in one case, a GOP candidate crossed the aisle to vote in a Democratic primary.
Columbia pastor Det Bowers has voted in one party primary since 2000 – the 2002 Republican state primary – and in 1994 voted in a Democratic state primary, four years after switching to the GOP.
Nancy Mace, a Charleston public relations executive who was the first female graduate of The Citadel, registered to vote in South Carolina after the 2012 general election despite volunteering for a presidential hopeful earlier in the year.
The State newspaper reviewed the U.S. Senate candidates’ voting histories in general elections and primaries from 2000 to 2012. The 2000 election cycle was the earliest year available electronically at the S.C. Election Commission.
Bowers abstained from voting in primaries to avoid influencing his congregation, he said. His opponents had mixed reactions to Bowers’ voting history.
“I don’t quite understand it,” said state Sen. Lee Bright, reacting to Bowers’ lack of participation in primaries. “A lot of time, that’s where the battle is fought in South Carolina. I don’t think you have to come out as a pastor and be a party official, but to say you’re not voting – that’s his question to answer.”
Easley businessman Richard Cash said he can see how a candidate’s interest in politics changes over time, “so I don’t see it as a great issue if someone has become much more engaged recently than they were in times past.”
Mace voted in 2013 in the 1st District congressional special election to fill the seat vacated by then-U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate, her campaign manager, Marissa Lynch, said.
But Mace did not cast a ballot in a South Carolina election from at least 2000 to 2012, state voting records show. She lived out of state for nine years, moving back to South Carolina at the end of 2011 to build a home that her family moved into in 2012, Lynch said.
Mace, who declined comment, registered to vote in South Carolina after the November 2012 general election, state records show.
Earlier in 2012, Mace was politically active in the state by volunteering for U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who was running for the GOP presidential nomination. In January 2012, Mace introduced state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, at a Paul campaign event in Myrtle Beach.
Meanwhile, Graham and Bright, R-Spartanburg, voted in every GOP primary and general election in their precincts since the 2000 general election, according to commission records.
Cash, Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor and Columbia attorney Benjamin Dunn consistently vote in general elections and showed up for most GOP primaries over the past 14 years.
Connor said he missed two years’ primaries because of military commitments, including coming off and on active duty.
Avoiding undue influence
Bowers, a retired attorney who spent the past two decades as a pastor, said he tried to walk a political tightrope with his work at the church.
Bowers said he intentionally avoided voting in party statewide and presidential primaries while an active minister to avoid “unduly influencing” his congregation of Democrats and Republicans.
“When you vote in a general election, it’s for the well-being of the nation,” said Bowers, who was the pastor at Christ Church of the Carolinas for 13 years before stepping down a year ago.
Voting in a primary could send his congregation members “a message that I’m trying to convince them to vote like me,” he said.
Bowers voted in the 2002 statewide GOP primary when Mark Sanford, whom he called a friend, was running for governor and faced a primary challenge.
Though he switched to the GOP from the Democratic Party in 1990, Bowers voted in the 1994 Democratic statewide primary, The State newspaper confirmed with records from the state archives.
A personal relationship with Nick Theodore, who was running for the Democratic nomination for governor, led him to vote in that party’s primary, Bowers told The State. Bowers had a long history with Theodore, running his successful 1986 campaign for lieutenant governor.
To support his “dear, dear friend,” Bowers said he cast a vote.
The 1994 vote could trouble the Republican activists who participate heavily in primaries.
“Republican voters who are the most conservative may look a little askance at someone who in ’94 pulled a Democratic ballot” after saying he switched to the GOP, Citadel political scientist Scott Buchanan said.
Bright said voting in the primaries is a way to move conservative causes forward, but Bowers’ 1994 vote was less worrisome to both Bright and Connor.
“Going back that far in someone’s life, the relevancy cuts off at some point,” Connor said of Bowers’ 1994 vote. “I want to keep the campaign focused on the relevant issues.”