If campaigns are a reflection of their candidates, those in the race for Horry County chairman are offering the whole gamut of personalities, from well-connected big spender to simple, thrifty hopeful.
Campaign reports out last week put former councilman Mark Lazarus firmly in the money lead, so much so that he has already spent more money than the other four candidates have raised.
Myrtle Beach lobbyist and consultant Debbie Harwell is second in the war chest department, having raised almost $30,000, less than half of Lazarus’ $68,000.
“I really didn’t think it would be that expensive of a race,” Harwell said. “I’ve never been in a race before.”
On the opposite end of the fundraising spectrum are Council Al Allen, former Chairwoman Liz Gilland and Fonzie Lewis, a former County Council and Statehouse hopeful. Together, the three have raised about $6,000.
Scott Huffmon, professor of political science at Winthrop University, said both Lazarus’ and Harwell’s campaign funds are significant amounts of money for this type of race, even if it were a full term.
At this point in his 2010 race, former council Chairman Tom Rice had raised a little over $80,000.
“One can’t help but arch an eyebrow and wonder if they have higher aspirations,” Huffmon said.
Lazarus said he is definitely setting himself up for a full term as County Council chairman.
“It’s a year-and-a-half, but there’s much more to it,” he said. What that doesn’t include, Lazarus added, is looking for a trip to Columbia or Washington, D.C. He feels there’s enough that needs fixing in Horry County.
Harwell said she doesn’t yet know if she would seek further office after this campaign, assuming she’s the victor.
With more than week until the election, fundraising is still under way, but these reports will be the last glimpse into candidates’ donations and donors until after the voting has ended.
When it comes to donors, the bulk of Lazarus’ contributions thus far have come from east of the Intracoastal Waterway, a reflection perhaps of more established connections for the long-time Strand businessman. But Lazarus doesn’t believe that in any way impacts his assessment of being county inclusive.
“I don’t think that’s the case,” Lazarus said. He added he has a fundraiser next week in Conway that he expects to bring in donors west of the Waterway.
So far, Lazarus has spent about $40,000.
“The bulk of it went to signs so far,” he said.
According to his report, about $16,600 went to various sign and printing businesses. Lazarus’ biggest single expense so far was a $6,000 payment to Crescent Communications LLC on Feb. 4. The political consulting business was incorporated Feb. 5 by Cam Crawford, vice chairman of the Grand Strand Young Republicans and husband of state Rep. Heather Ammons Crawford, according to the Secretary of State’s website.
Harwell said getting voter information from a database has been her biggest expense.
Her report lists a $7,500 expense for the purchase of a “constituent cloud.” But her single biggest expense was a $9,250 payment to Lucky Dog Television Productions, a political consulting firm run by Conway’s Donald Smith.
Harwell said Lazarus, Gilland and Allen have voter databases already. They also have something Harwell said she doesn’t – name recognition.
“I’m having to work on my name recognition,” she said.
Allen did spend $500 to buy a voters list, according to his report, but the bulk of the nearly $2,600 he’s spent has been for signs and business cards.
All of Gilland’s campaign funds comes from a $1,000 loan. She’s used $515 of it, enough to pay the filing fee for the race.
“The economy is bad, and I hate to ask anyone for money,” Gilland said. “I don’t have a lot, and I’m frugal.”
Gilland said she’s using signs left over from her last campaign for this go-around. She said slick, glossy political ads sent in the mail can influence voters, and the traditional thinking in the political arena is that money buys elections.
“That’s not the way I think,” Gilland said.
Most of her money will go toward newspaper advertising, she added.
Lewis has contributed $715 of his own money to his $915 campaign account. The other $200 contribution (which came from the mini-mart he owns) is all that’s left after his expenses thus far.
He expects to have a good, strong showing in the race despite not spending a great deal of money.
Lewis said it’s important to get your name out and people should know who you are, but one shouldn’t go overboard.
“I think it’s a waste for all that money to be spent on the campaign,” he said.
The five hopefuls are hoping to fill the seat left vacant by Rice following his November victory to be the 7th Congressional District’s new representative in the U.S. Congress.
Because the candidates all are Republican, the March 12 primary will likely decide the race, though a runoff is possible. But there will still be a general election on April 30, where the winner of the primary will face any write-in candidates