Kevin Fisher in 2018

Kevin Fisher, July 2018

Has there ever been a more incompetent political campaign than the one run by the S.C. Republican Party in Senate District 20? Well, not counting Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The simple fact is the GOP has held the Columbia-area seat for the past 34 years. But when former state Sen. John Courson got caught up in the State House corruption scandal and ultimately resigned, the Republicans went limp.

First, they couldn’t get anybody with any profile, experience or clout to run. Why? The only logical explanation is fear of Harpo. Genteel and/or wimpy Republicans seemed unwilling to take on Dick Harpootlian’s acid tongue and ability to self-fund his campaign.  

Then, from among the inexperienced, low-profile candidates who did run, GOP primary voters unexpectedly picked one whose prior political foray consisted of finishing seventh out of seven candidates in the 2014 Republican U.S. Senate primary won by Lindsey Graham. 

Benjamin Dunn received 1 percent of the vote in that race. Based on that showing, he jumped into — and won — the GOP nomination for one of that party’s longest held state senate seats.

That’s not to say Dunn is not sincere and principled, as he strikes me as both. It is to say he was not the candidate for the Republicans to put up against Harpo.

At that point, the GOP panicked. Realizing they were at risk of losing a seat they had controlled since 1984, the Senate Republican Caucus decided to enter the fray and bring big bucks with them. 

They could never have imagined what would come next. Which was a good attorney. Named Dick Harpootlian. 

Just as he did recently with renegade bars in Five Points, Harpo turned to the law as it is written, rather than as it has been ignored. 

Harpootlian brought cases that shined a light on the drinking establishment laws that were being flaunted in Five Points, winning legal victories earlier this year over several irresponsible bars and their owners. 

The rulings gave hope to both Five Points supporters and the surrounding neighborhoods, which had watched and suffered as City Council did nothing about the problems of late-night public drunkenness, violence and vandalism in and around the historic entertainment district.  The court wins will no doubt serve Harpootlian well in those neighborhoods on election day, even among Republicans.

The prominent and aggressive Columbia attorney took a similar approach when the Senate Republican Caucus launched a massive TV ad blitz against him. Turning again to the law as written rather than the law ignored, Harpootlian filed suit based on the state statute that limits such spending by political caucus organizations in support of a candidate (including attacking his opponent) to $5,000. 

In response, Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey cited a past decision by the Senate Ethics Committee that said a caucus can raise and spend unlimited funds to support a candidate within 45 days of an election. Massey laughably called the Ethics Committee decision “binding.” 

Hitting that hanging curve ball out of the park, Harpootlian replied, according to The State: “I’m a lawyer. Committee findings aren’t binding. Laws are binding. Decisions by courts are binding.” 

While this particular law was either unknown, unenforced or both in prior campaigns funded by Republican and Democratic caucus organizations alike, Harpo brought it to light. And Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning agreed with his argument. 

The judge issued an injunction against further spending until the case can be litigated, and the state Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Manning’s decision. 

That means the $200,000 the Senate Republican Caucus had already spent attacking Harpo will be all they can spend, putting an end to the group’s campaign against him and likely their hopes of holding the seat for the GOP. 

While Harpo is still a tough pill to swallow for most Republicans and even some Democrats (see his list of insensitive quotes that would make Trump blush),  it looks to me like he is going to take a Republican seat based on a combination of his own legal and political skills coupled with staggering incompetence by the GOP. 

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.