As cameras roll, South Carolina reality show cast member makes bid for U.S. Senate

Wed Sep 24, 2014 8:21am EDT
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By Harriet McLeod

EDISTO ISLAND S.C. (Reuters) - When independent U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel made a case for voters choosing him over Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham this month, only a few dozen people showed up at his 19th-century home on a South Carolina island to listen.

But millions may end up seeing the speech on national television due to an unusual twist in Ravenel's candidacy - his role on Bravo's "Southern Charm" reality show.

The wealthy real estate developer's long-shot bid to topple Graham is being filmed for the second season of the series, which follows the hard-partying lives of Ravenel and five other Charleston socialites and is scheduled to air next year.

In an era when the lives of professional athletes, real estate agents and housewives play out before cameras, Ravenel's campaign appears to be the first in a major race to pair politics with reality TV.

The show has raised his profile, drawing an average audience of nearly 1.3 million viewers per episode last spring, and it may give him a wide platform to trumpet his message of limited government, if not in time to help him in the November election.

The polo-playing son of a former U.S. congressman says reality TV is a mixed blessing. Filming is time consuming and the show has triggered criticism that he is not a serious candidate.

"They are dead wrong," Ravenel, 52, said of his doubters. "This is about changing the course of the country and challenging the political establishment which I believe has run the country into a ditch."

Ravenel spoke to Reuters at his 60-acre Brookland Plantation on Edisto Island, about 40 miles from Charleston, before the start of a fundraiser he described as a chance to reach out to his 5,000 Facebook friends.   Continued...

Thomas Ravenel, an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, makes a campaign speech from the porch of his 19th century house on rural Edisto Island, South Carolina September 13, 2014.  REUTERS/Harriet McLeod