COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Lindsey Graham wasn’t at the U.S. Senate debate Monday night, but like the relative who doesn’t show up for Thanksgiving dinner, the incumbent was the main topic of conversation between Democrat Brad Hutto and independent Thomas Ravenel.
That meant plenty of agreement between the candidates about Graham being too quick to call for American involvement in international affairs and more concerned with being on national talk shows than dealing with issues that affect people in South Carolina. And both knocked Graham for not showing up for the debate televised statewide by South Carolina Educational Television.
Graham refused to come to the debate, saying he didn’t want to be on the same stage as former state treasurer Ravenel, who left office in 2007 because of a drug charge, was convicted of a felony and has since become a reality TV star with his show “Southern Charm.” A crew from the show wasn’t allowed in the debate.
Graham plans to attend an Oct. 27 forum in Columbia with business leaders, along with Hutto. Ravenel wasn’t invited because the chamber wants to concentrate on major party candidates. That forum won’t be televised.
Hutto and Ravanel each opened with a shot at Graham, who is seeking a third term.
“He’s probably concerned about putting young men’s and women’s boots on the ground somewhere overseas instead of putting his own boots on the stage here with us tonight,” said Hutto, a state senator from Orangeburg.
Monday was likely Ravenel’s only chance to debate. He frequently interrupted questions and ran over his time for his answers. He said Graham was scared of him and didn’t want to answer questions about why he voted for President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees or agreed to raise the debt ceiling.
“He’s not afraid to put our sons and daughters in harm’s way, but he lacks the courage to stand here and answer questions,” Ravenel said.
During the second half of the debate Hutto said he wants equal pay for women and a minimum wage increase. Ravenel says he want to reduce the U.S. debt.
Hutto said government has an important role in people’s lives and even if education and health care are given more state control, federal money must follow to make sure a rural child in Allendale County has the same opportunity as a child somewhere else. Ravenel said the federal government needs to give up most of its power to states because they can try 50 solutions to a problem instead of just one.
Libertarian Victor Kocher wasn’t invited to Monday’s 30-minute debate.
Graham told reporters in Charleston last week that he would skip this week’s debate because he tries to avoid anything that could bring bad news to South Carolina.
“It’s not that I’m afraid to debate anybody’s ideas, but I think I have a responsibility, being the sitting senator, not to allow this thing to turn into a circus,” Graham said at a campaign stop in Mount Pleasant.
Graham’s decision to ignore Ravenel, who got on the ballot by collecting more than 10,000 signatures and appears to have run a legitimate campaign, seems unfair, said Gibbs Knotts, a political science professor at the College of Charleston. He said voters across South Carolina should be able to hear from all the choices on the November ballot.
“Yes, he’s a controversial candidate with prior convictions, but he’s got some things to say that both the Democrats and Republicans would want to listen to and appeal to some voters, especially young ones, like the decriminalization of drugs and allowing felons to vote,” Knotts said.
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